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The making of Michael Morgan

By Tony Webeck, NRL.com

Watch highlights of the Mackay Cutters' 27-20 Intrust Super Cup 2013 win over the Easts Tigers in the video above and the Michael Morgan that is currently using Telstra Premiership aspirants as his personal plaything comes into full view.

There's a draw and pass to put his winger away for the Cutters' first try of the grand final; a blink-and-you'll-miss-it tip-on for the try that gave Mackay the lead after 31 minutes and then a brilliant solo try in the second half to once again swing momentum his side's way.

After scoring in the corner in a manner in which current Cowboys teammate Kyle Feldt would give his seal of approval, Morgan pointed to the sky to acknowledge the reason he was playing at all.

In late April that year Morgan and the entire North Queensland organisation lost a young man in Alex Elisala who many held dear, but whom Morgan had shared the type of brotherly bond that only comes from living a year in the same bedroom in the Morgan family home.

Morgan played halfback for the Cowboys the week after Elisala's passing but subsequently had three weeks off and contemplated wiping 2013 completely from his calendar and starting again the next year.

Former Cutters coach Kim Williams understood the delicateness of the situation and as Morgan spent most of the back-half of the season playing for Mackay he eased him back into the team.

Playing predominantly off the bench and used in stints at hooker, five-eighth and lock, Morgan's talent was always evident but in the grand final he had a purpose that proved to make all the difference.

"I think I just mentioned once in the shed before the grand final that we had something more to play for than they did. I didn't have to name Alex, we all knew what we were talking about," Williams told NRL.com.

"I've watched that game a few times since and you can just see the class of the man. He's got so much time with the ball.

"Everyone remembers that try he scored off the dropped ball but he set up a try for Bureta Faraimo before that in the first half that put us back in the game.

"If you go back and have a look at that try, that's 'Morgs' all up. Silky hands, catch and pass all in one action and put Bureta down the sideline.

"He's got the largest skill set of any player I've had the privilege to be involved with. That's why he's such an asset to any team.

"He's been used in that bench utility role at Origin level but the way he's played over the last month he's got to be the No.6 for Australia.

"I can't see any other player playing better than him at the moment."

Michael Morgan scoring for Mackay Cutters
Michael Morgan scoring for Mackay in the 2013 Intrust Super Cup grand final

Of course, the catalyst for Morgan's emergence as one of the premier playmakers in the competition has been the short and long-term absence of Cowboys superstar Johnathan Thurston in 2017.

When Thurston went down in Round 6 with a calf injury in the Cowboys' shock loss to the Wests Tigers in Townsville and with the team already reeling from the loss of Matt Scott a month earlier, all eyes turned to Morgan for a way out.

For three weeks as North Queensland went down to the Dragons and Eels he appeared to be struggling with the enormity of the challenge handed him, and had astute rugby league minds such as Ben Ikin questioning his ability to take ownership of a result.

"I remember when they played the Eels earlier in the year and I said that I didn't think Michael Morgan had a feel for the game like the great playmakers," Ikin told NRL.com of a game in which the Cowboys went down 26-6.

"He can do great things, do brilliant things occasionally but in terms of connecting it all up and controlling a game I didn't think he had it.

"He came out the next week and everything I said he wasn't, he played 80 minutes of football that showed me he was. And he hasn't taken a step backwards since then.

"It was almost like the void left by Thurston that it was Morgan's destiny to step into it and realise his full potential."

That game Ikin references was against the Bulldogs a week after Morgan's opposite this Sunday, Cooper Cronk, took him under his wing and delivered a crash course in Game Management 101.

He laid on four tries that night and scored another himself in North Queensland's 30-14 win and in the space of five wins in six games scored four tries and had 10 try assists, a tally that now stands at 21 to be top of the NRL. 

Morgan's style is vastly different to the meticulous execution of Cronk, but ever since Thurston was ruled out for the season in the wake of Origin II he has made it his sole mission to be Cowboys' go-to man.

Riding the wave of momentum generated by Jason Taumalolo he scored a try and had a hand in two others as the Cowboys finished over the top of the Tigers in Round 25, kicked the match-winning field goal in Week One of the finals and laid on the try that put his side in front in the Preliminary Final against the Roosters before icing it with another finals field goal – the second of his career – three minutes from full-time.

All in such a nonchalant fashion as to draw comparison with another Storm superstar.

"He's an intelligent guy and never appears flustered," says Ikin.

"Everything we're saying about Michael Morgan now – and I know it's much earlier in his career – are adjectives you usually use to describe Cam Smith."


This article first appeared on NRL.com