The A-List: MICHAEL MORGAN (North Queensland, Queensland & Australia)

RLW Michael MorganBy STEVE MASCORD

“YOU mean THE tackle?” Michael Morgan says, raising an eyebrow.

A-List has just pointed out to the 24-year-old Townsvillian that in sports, you can trade on one thing for your entire life. Exhibit A: Scott Sattler. Exhibit B: the 2003 grand final.

Michael Morgan hasn’t thought about that way before. He hasn’t thought about the impact of setting up the try that tied the greatest grand final of all time, three quarters of a year ago.

He insists it hasn’t changed his life. Yet.

“No, not at all. I think because of the way I see it … I don’t see it at all as I threw the pass to win the grand final. I don’t look at it like that,” he says, before the Cowboys begin training on a typically warm and humid NQ afternoon.

“I genuinely believe that I got extremely lucky and there were other things in the game that I didn’t do that I should’ve. So no, I don’t think it’s changed my life at all. It’s just … look, it’s a very proud moment, one that I will remember for a long time and I’m stoked it happened but ….”

When you retire, though, it could become the focus of every interaction you have with the outside world … just like Satts.

“… no, no, I haven’t thought about that. Yes, I still get asked about it a lot but I think to me it feels like it was only just last year so … we’re still the premiers from the year before.

“People still bring up a bit of last year because it’s early in the season. I think that’s the only reason … I only see it that way.”

You know how you can tell a smart person sometimes by the sparkle in their eye? Michael Morgan – nearing 100 games for the Cowboys, a Queensland State of Origin player – is one of those people.

He’s so steeped in north Queensland rugby league that his grandfather knew Arch Foley, after whom the Foley Shield was named. But he’s still managed the perspective to understand it’s just a game, weekend entertainment for the masses.

“I’d like to think I’ve been pretty level headed, even before,” he nods. “I think it’s a good thing, growing up around my mates and that.

“I went to Iggy (Ignatius) Park here. If you did anything that was cocky or anything like that, you couldn’t get away with it. I was never in a group of friends where that was acceptable.”

That is not to say he hasn’t taken his own career seriously. And the early NRL days, he is happy to admit, were tough. Quite tough, actually.

“When I debuted and first played first grade, that was probably the hardest thing for me,” he says, when I ask about the confidence to speak up as a playmaker.

“One, playing in the halves when I was 18, filling in for Johnno (Johnathan Thurston) for my first game. And then having guys like Mango (Matt Bowen), Luke O’Donnell, Willle Mason. As an 18-year-old I didn’t find I had the authority as a half to tell them what to do.

“I never talked enough. I suppose I wasn’t confident enough. I suppose I was still overawed at the whole situation.

“My debut game, like I said, I filled in for Johnno. It was a Monday night game and I found out the Monday before that I was going to be playing so it was a long week. All the hype about filling in for JT and being from here … there was a lot of talk.

“But I probably struggled with the physicality of it the most. I played four games that year but my body after every game was wrecked. I’d never played against men before. I’d never played local A-grade even. I played high school footy and straight into 20s so my first A-grade game was NRL. So my body at 18, I don’t think was ready. That was the biggest challenge for me.”

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How did it change? Forget all the clichés about maturity and advice from older players. It changed by getting the hell out of the halves.

“I think the year I had at fullback (did it). I think I played 13 games in 2012, that was the most I’d played in a season before 2014 when I went to fullback.

“Moving away from the halves, I didn’t feel like I needed to talk and organise. I didn’t need to be the dominant voice or anything like that. I’d played in the halves with Johnno before but he’s a very dominant player and at times I wasn’t sure how to play with him, as much.

“So when I went to fullback I could follow him, play off the back of him. I wasn’t trying to … not compete for the ball but if there was something on, I wouldn’t have the confidence to call for it I suppose because if he wants the ball he gets it. I didn’t want to call it and stuff up.

“The year at fullback just allowed me to see the game from a different angle and pop up where I could. It was a bit more of a free reign without having to organise and talk. I could worry about myself more than anything and my own role.

“I think that was what made me start to get more comfortable and build into it better.”

Other things contributed to the player we have now, the man who many think would keep Anthony Milford out of the Queensland squad even if he was available. Not all of them were good things.

Like the loss of good friend Alex Elisala to suicide.

“Everything with Alex was extremely hard,” he said, when we finally get around to the topic. “But I think, as well, a lot of people talk about depression they only talk about suicide. Yes, its awful but there’s a lot of different types of depression that people don’t know about so to learn more about the different types of it, knowing that there’s not just one single form of depression, (is important).

“I suppose I grew from it as a person and that kind of thing and I’m just glad I can be in a position where I can help, maybe, one person.”

Back back to where we started. What fascinates me, and probably you if you contemplate it, is doing something so momentous that it changes lives. That literally millions of set of eyes can be on you when you performed a reflex action that will go on to define your life.

The vast majority of us will never experience it. I have to ask again: how does it feel?

“I haven’t actually thought about it. I thought if it didn’t happen, we would have lost because if I get tackled there or we have a go at a kick and it doesn’t come off then it’s ‘game over’ right there.

“But honestly the most I’ve thought, or what I’ve thought, is that we were very lucky because it was just a lucky play, I suppose, the way it all came off.

“I haven’t thought about it in that way, of how many people would have watched it and …

when you think about it like that, I suppose it is a bit. There’s a lot of people just at the game but I suppose with the TV, how much it was on TV, and been played since … it’s pretty crazy really.

“In a way, I don’t know if I’m answering it the way you want me to, but for that week or even months after the actual game, when the trophy went around, we were able to give people a lot of happiness – just from winning that game.

“One game brought so many people so much happiness.

“I think for that period of time, people forgot about their problems – whether it is not having work, struggling financially …

“To know we could actually make a difference in people’s lives like that and give them happiness from winning a football game … to know you’ve, by playing well and working as hard as we all did last year, made people we’ve never met extremely happy for a long period of time…..

“Even now, people still talk to you about the game and where they were for it, what they were doing, how they reacted, who they were with and everyone’s got their own story now of where they were when the Cowboys won their first premiership.

“It feels pretty special to have done that.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
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