Cowboys tragic Bo Nicholson knows all of the doom and gloom statistics around the Cowboys’ record without Johnathan Thurston – but supposes that this could be Michael Morgan’s moment to shine.
A Precocious Talent
Michael Morgan is one of the hottest young prospects in the NRL; a player with pace, skill, footwork and strength, there isn’t a lot that he can’t do.
He’s worked hard at his craft, become a young leader at his hometown club and has always held the respect of others on and off the field. We’ve been talking for years about Morgan. He was the young gun who demolished the Broncos in a semi-final after scoring a hat-trick, playing at halfback.
He was the man that was moved to fullback in 2014 after an injury to recruit Lachlan Coote, then went on to become one of the most dangerous custodians in the competition. The kid can do it all, they said! They might have been right.
But Michael Morgan is not a kid anymore; he’s currently in his 26th year on this planet and is a state and international representative, as well as a Premiership winner in 2015. In the years leading up to this point we marvelled at his talent, particularly his versatility, which has seen him fill the coveted utility role for Queensland and Australia. He’s long been seen as the next captain of the Cowboys and the next five-eighth for Queensland (and probably Australia). There’s just one problem; he’s far from proving himself to be capable of managing a game.
No Coote = No Cowboys
The common theory is that no Thurston equals no Cowboys and with just 3 wins from their last 13 games without him, it’s pretty hard to argue with those numbers. Thurston is either acknowledged as one of the greats, or his detractors are in denial; the man is a magician and has the burning competitive spirit to match it. He also knows how to manage a game and keep his side in the contest. During their premiership winning year (the first three rounds excluded), the Cowboys either won the game or weren’t far from winning it – Thurston wouldn’t have it any other way. But everyone knows his value. Let’s talk about the second most valuable Cowboy; Lachlan Coote.
What about Matt Scott, I hear you say. Well yes, he’s a huge loss to the side, but theoretically the side can still achieve similar go-forward if lesser-named forwards pick up the slack. Plus they have this hulking Dally M winner at lock that has unrivalled ability in the middle. What about Jake Granville, you retort.
Well yes, he’s a huge loss, too. Particularly with that speed that he has around the ruck. He provides decent service, but he’s hardly one of the better passers of the footy from dummy half, and his kicking game is non-existent unless he’s 2 metres out from the try-line. A loss, but replaceable. The one man they can’t replace is Lachlan Coote. What about Kalyn Ponga? Sure, the kid is a freak, but he is a completely different style of fullback. Watching the Cowboys get eaten alive by the Tigers on Saturday, I lost count of the amount of times that the Cowboys were tackled in the attacking 20.
This is where Ponga is supposed to be a weapon with his anticipation, ball skills and footwork – but he was so often caught lazing around behind the ruck; not looking for the ball, not getting into attacking formations. Coote is pivotal because he makes those around him more potent, including Thurston. When the Cowboys are in good ball, they have a very clear formation for attacking, with Thurston roving from side to side and hitting
Coote on the left-edge and Morgan on the right. But the thing that makes Coote so dangerous is his left-footed kicking game, providing a left-edge 4th or 5th tackle option which keeps opposition fullbacks in two minds and allows both he and Thurston to find the turf with kicks, more often. We’ve seen no evidence of Ponga’s kicking skills. No Thurston would disrupt any side, but no Coote equals no Cowboys.