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.”

World Cup ebay
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
World Cup ebay

FIVE METRE GAP: Round 13

Hamish NealBy HAMISH NEAL

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round 13.

Steve Price’s voodoo hex over Wayne Bennett-coached sides continued on Saturday in Newcastle as St George Illawarra beat the Knights. Many of the plaudits were focused on the individual efforts of Dragons fullback Josh Dugan however ball security won the day for the visitors , who completed 85 per cent of their sets. In recent weeks their completion rate had dipped to 65 per cent so it was been a back-to-basics approach which helped move the joint-venture side up to 12th on the ladder.

Despite the loss on Friday night and the fallout of the ‘Parra 12’ ,the Eels were able to salvage something out of the reshuffled side with the performance of stand-in fullback Jake Mullaney. The 23-year-old was elevated to the starting line-up as regular fullback Jarryd Hayne came off the bench after Origin duty and the former Tiger produced a game-high 19 runs which generated 124 metres and included eight tackle breaks. Given Parramatta’s lack of zip in attack in recent weeks, if your fullback can break the first tackle on nearly every second attempt it’s not a bad platform to start each set with.

Last week we highlighted the targeting of replacement halfback Ben Hunt when the Broncos were humbled by the Warriors in round 12 and this week it’s another substitute half who was in the crosshairs of their opponents. With Johnathan Thurston missing due to injury, Michael Morgan slotted into five-eighth for the Cowboys as they faced the Bulldogs eventually going down 36-26. Missing five of his 15 tackle attempts, the 21 year-old wasn’t quite in Hunt’s echelon but was still poor in his 65 minutes on the park.

With captain Robbie Farah injured, Masada Iosefa took up the workload in the absence of the Blues hooker, making 55 tackles as the Wests Tigers edged the Panthers on Sunday. Team-mate Aaron Woods was exceptional with 46 tackles to go with his 20 hit-ups but the former Panther is proving his worth as Farah’s understudy on the occasions when he has been called upon to play first grade for the side in the last two seasons.

As the Warriors continue their great run of form with their third win on the trot – against Manly on Sunday – coach Matthew Elliott has been left with an interesting predicament about his back three. Compared to the problems he was looking at four weeks ago, the subject of what to do with Glen Fisiiahi with Kevin Locke returning this weekend is a vexing one.  Fisiiahi, 22, produced 20 runs with four tackle breaks and was dynamic in attack playing in the #1 slot on the weekend and Elliott needs to try to get the best out of him coming off the wing when Locke returns but ensuring they don’t reduce the incumbent’s impact.

Not a bad problem to have, though, for the previously under-fire ex-Raiders coach.

NRL round seven: NORTH QUEENSLAND 30 CANBERRA 12 at 1300SMILES Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD

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

Cowboys Set Defensive Bar High

By STEVE MASCORD

NORTH Queensland coach Neil Henry has called upon his men to record the best defensive record in the club’s 18-year history if they want to make an impression this season.

Speaking in the wake of Saturday night’s big 40-18 win over Canberra at Dairy Farmers Stadium, utility Michael Morgan tells League Week the Cowboys are aiming to restrict sides to 15 points per game in 2012.

Their previous best defensive record was in 2006, when they conceded 19.3 points a game. Henry’s edict is having success: so far this year, the average is 17.9.

“The goal is to try and keep them to less than 15 per game,” said Morgan. “We have no trouble scoring points, with blokes like JT (Johnathan Thurston) and Matt Bowen, obviously.

“I think, defensively we’ve been a lot better this year.

“The whole team is willing to work a lot harder for each other. I think that showed … against the Broncos.

“We did a lot of work on it in the pre-season and we talk about it before every game. Everyone’s close and good mates and we want to work for each other.”

Morgan made his debut in 2010 when flying fullback Bowen made his return from a knee reconstruction and is uniquely placed to assess the resurgence in “Mango”.

‘It’s awesome watching him catch the ball on the full and bring it back at speed,” said Morgan, 20.

“The way he’s going, he’s killing it.

“He’s definitely got a lot more speed back. He has his moments, he’ll yell if he has to. He’s not too loud, he’s not someone who’ll yell across the whole field at the team.”

Saturday night was a bittersweet occasion for the Cowboys with co-captain Matt Scott missing following the death of his mother.

“It’s been really hard to deal with it,” said centre Brent Tate.

“We’re a pretty tight-knit club and he’s a big part of this club. We’re all feeling his loss. It’s a tough time for the club, a tough time for Matty obviously and we’re just here to support him.

“I’m pretty sure he will be (back this week). I’m pretty sure that’s the way his mum would want it.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK