HE was ordered by superstar Johnathan Thurston to show more leadership and halfback Michael Morgan responded by helping propel North Queensland to the edge of the top eight.
Morgan, 21, is involved in a selection duel at halfback with Robert Lui – out injured until round 10 – and was asked in a one-on-one meeting with Thurston last week to “take the heat” off the Australia five-eighth.
After being denied a 57th-minute try by the video referees, Morgan backed up a break by the increasingly impressive Tariq Sims to score seven minutes later and give the Cowboys a match-winning 22-6 lead.
“I didn’t think too much of it at the time – I knew what I had to do for the team and my role in the team,” said Morgan, when asked about the criticism from his captain.
“I know I was slow in getting back into that. I finished last year well and started slow, obviously, this year.
“My involvement tonight, I think, was a lot better.
“When Robbie’s fit, he’ll be wanting the position too. I don’t think I’ll be safe at all.”
Canberra looked set for a pasting when the Cowboys scored two tries in the opening 16 minutes, with the Raiders staying in touch by virtue of an intercept try off a Matt Bowen pass to winger Edrick Lee.
But with a booming kicking game and a forceful Terry Campese-Joel Thompson partnership, the Green Machine rallied and with 17 minutes left in the round seven clash, the halftime margin of 16-4 remained.
Morgan’s try opened up a bigger lead but there were echoes of past Canberra comebacks when centre Jack Wighton crossed at 70 minutes, Reece Robinson goaling for 22-12.
Thurston added a penalty goal, laid on a kick for winger Ashley Graham’s 100th try in first grade and then added a further two pointer as the fulltime siren sounded.
The Cowboys join the green machine on six competition points and hope their sluggish opening to 2013 is behind them.
“The Penrith game was good and we backed it up against the Broncos so it’s a step in the right direction,” said Thurston.
“We just need to build on that. We need to … make sure we execute our plays and that we’ve got our defensive focus.
“There’re still areas we need to improve on.”
Raiders officials said there were hopes a knee injury to centre Jarrod Croker was not serious. He will have scans in the coming days but a medial ligament strain is the early diagnosis.
Croker is in dire doubt for Saturday’s encounter with Melbourne, however.
Prop Brett White suffered a nerve ‘stinger’ in the opening exchanges but is thought to be OK.
Campese was angry about a scrum feed decision by referees Gavin Badger and Alan Shortall which he said went the wrong way.
“We built our way back into the game in the second half and (then there was) that little kick where they knocked into touch and got the feed,” said Campese.
“That’s a massive call.
“It’s frustrating being out there, you put in the effort to get back into the game and then a call like that goes against you.”
Coach David Furner lamented: “We seem to defend better when we’re fatigued.
“We’ve probably learned our lesson. We’ve given a couple of teams a good start and we’ve been able to pull them back in. Not tonight.”
Neither Furner or Campese would offer any thoughts on whether their opponents had re-emerged as a premiership threat.
“They’re out of the way, we’ve got to think about Melbourne now,” said Campese.
“Melbourne are, what, seven wins in a row? We have to be a lot better than we were tonight to get a win down there.”
NORTH QUEENSLAND 30 (M Bowen A Graham G Hall M Morgan B Tate tries J Thurston 5 goals) bt CANBERRA 12 (E Lee J Wighton tries J Croker R Robinson goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium. Referees: G Badger/A Shortall. Crowd: 13,240.
Filed for: SUN HERALD