Cowboys halfback Michael Morgan.

Michael Morgan is under no illusions. He knows he will never be the next Johnathan Thurston but he is also well aware that when the Cowboys are looking for a Thurstonism – the clutch play in the big moment or the never-say-die effort when all seems lost – all eyes will be on him in 2019.

As North Queensland's new main man in the No.7 jersey, and possibly their next captain as well, the 27-year-old is up for the task of taking the reins in the post-Thurston era.

"It is exciting but I am a little bit nervous about it as well. It is the unknown I guess," Morgan told NRL.com at Cowboys headquarters in Townsville.

"A lot of the big games I've played throughout my career were with JT, so it will be different.

"We can't be expecting it will all be smooth sailing because in no way are we going to be able to replace JT.

"We can try and cover parts of the game he did well and share his responsibility a little bit, but I am under no illusions that a lot of that responsibility will fall on me if I am the one going into his jersey. It is a challenge I am looking forward to but certainly I am not going to try and replace JT and do what he was doing, because I will fail at that."

Michael Morgan and Johnathan Thurston in the week before the 2015 grand final.
Michael Morgan and Johnathan Thurston in the week before the 2015 grand final. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

Morgan at least has a positive memory to draw on, the way he handled Thurston's long-term absence through injury in 2017 and guided the Cowboys to the grand final.

"Before that it was either him being out for Origin or with a short-term injury so as a team we never got a lot of long-term gelling without him being there, so the stats around us winning without JT weren't great," Morgan said.

"We'd miss him for a game or two and more often than not we would lose, but then in 2017 we learned how to play without him and you saw a number of guys step up and play a lot of good footy throughout that period."

Thurston gave the Cowboys plenty of notice that 2018 would be his last season and Morgan was then able to secure a five-year extension in the wake of that. He is eternally grateful for the seamless nature of that process.

"I didn't want to go anywhere and the club wanted me to stay so it was very easy to come to an agreement," Morgan said.

"The timing was really good in terms of knowing that Johnno was going to be retiring and that after that I'd have five years to try and take over from him so I'm in a good position to do that and hopeful that we can play some good footy and don't struggle in what everyone is calling the post-JT era."

NRL.com put to Morgan the challenges the Knights and Broncos had in the wake of the retirements of Andrew Johns and Allan Langer, their two greatest players. The Knights have not won a title since Johns pulled the pin in 2007 and the Broncos have claimed just one premiership in the near two decades since Langer's exit.

Morgan has let the first Cowboys' pre-season since 2005 without JT unfold organically and not dwell on the fact that he's not there.

"Pre-season has been similar in a way," Morgan said.

"New people come in and the changes naturally flow on, and you build on what you have at the time. In terms of training I haven't thought too much about it being 'my team'. I am just trying to do what Greeny [coach Paul Green] has asked me to do and work closely with the players so we can all figure out a way to play that will challenge the teams we are playing.

"With all the change we've had, and even losing JT, it is still exciting to see what is next for the club. For the team that is here we are all in that new phase together, and together we will decide how the club is going to be."

The halves will play a major role in that. At this stage Te Maire Martin, Morgan's halves partner in the run to the 2017 grand final, will play five-eighth. Jake Clifford will also challenge for the role after impressing in his rookie year.

"I had a really good relationship with Te Maire in 2017, so it is exciting . I learned things from his game that he does really well and I picked up on the things he likes to do so I can work with him to help him continue to do that," Morgan said.

A constant source of optimism for Morgan in the years ahead will be the presence of Green, a former halfback who has enhanced his pupil's grasp of game management.

"Greeny thinks in a lot more detail than a lot of people but he is very smart in how he teaches," Morgan said.

"He has been very good for me in terms of reading the game and what you should be thinking in certain parts of the game, and at controlling a game and knowing where we are at and what we should be doing."

Morgan is hoping last season's 13th-placed finish will be a blip on the radar, just like the Roosters' dire season in 2016 in which they came 15th

"I remember in 2017 when it looked like we weren't going to make the finals for the first time since 2010 I thought about how I didn't want to be part of that team to break the streak but we scraped in, so last year it was disappointing to be in the position we were," Morgan said.

"We have had a very long pre-season because of where we finished and going off what we've seen at training we are looking pretty good in my opinion."