Still reeling from a horror start to the year that has seen him battle both jaw and shoulder injuries as well as the death of good friend Alex Elisala, North Queensland five-eighth Michael Morgan says he has a point to prove when he lines up for just the sixth time this season against the Gold Coast on Sunday.
Recalled to the squad to cover for Queensland representative and Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston after missing the past three weeks with injury, Morgan is keen to get his year back on track and told NRL.com there was no better time to stake his claim than this weekend in the absence of the Cowboys’ Origin stars.
“It’s always good to be back playing first grade. It hasn’t been the best year for me on and off the field and I’m really looking to get that confidence back again,” the 21-year-old explained.
“Coming off last season, I think I had a good end to the year. I’d like to pick up that form again. I think before I did my shoulder I was happy with how I was going. I was happy with how I went against the Raiders and the Broncos. If I can put together a couple of games again now I’m sure I’ll feel good again.”
Morgan looked set to secure the Cowboys’ No.7 jersey last year after finishing strongly but very little has gone right since the clock ticked over into 2013 – starting with a badly broken jaw that saw him sidelined for six weeks at the start of the season.
“I’ve been patchy since,” Morgan said. “I felt good coming out of pre-season. I had a good first trial and was going alright in the second until I broke the jaw which slowed everything down a bit. From there I really struggled getting back into it – I don’t know why. It might have been a confidence thing.
“Then I came back and started to feel better about myself but then missed two games with a shoulder injury, so I’ve been a bit in and out all year.”
More difficult was the death of Cowboys teammate Alex Elisala last month. The tragedy rocked the club as a whole but Morgan in particular given that they met at high school in Townsville, moved through the grades together and were best mates.
“I’m still trying to get over that,” Morgan said. “It’s a month today and that brings up more memories again. I’m doing my best to get through it the best I can, but it’s hard.
“The Parramatta game (in Round 8) the day after his funeral was very tough and that will be the hardest game I every play I think, mentally. It is tough coming to training and not seeing him around the place but I just keep doing my best.”
Certainly North Queensland needs Morgan at his very best over the coming months as they look to navigate the tricky Origin period minus Thurston, James Tamou, Matt Scott and Brent Tate. Also, Matt Bowen and Gavin Cooper have been ruled out with injury.
“It’s an important period for us,” Morgan said. “We always have a few boys out with Origin plus we’ve got a couple of injuries now too which won’t help but I’m sure everyone that has earned a spot this week will go out and do their best.
“It’s never easy with players out but our goal is still to win, not just to compete. If we could get a few wins going into the bye (in Round 15) that would help us a lot.”
Asked about his combination with halfback Robert Lui, Morgan said: “I think it will be alright. We only had a couple of trials together but when we did play together it was good. We both talked to each other and knew what was going on so we were organised. Hopefully we can bring that to the field this weekend.”
With the Cowboys languishing in 12th spot on the NRL ladder with just four wins from 11 games, Morgan said he hoped to take on a greater leadership role this week, having taken a back seat in previous seasons.
“Because I was still coming into first grade, in previous years the other half would tend to take the leadership role,” he said. “I was normally filling in for JT but at the start of the year in the trials, when JT wasn’t playing, I tried to take on that role a bit more.
“Robbie is there this week too and he has a lot of experience so I’m sure he will try and lead us around and I’ll play off the back of our forwards and off the back of Robbie.
“The big thing for us is playing to our potential because I don’t think we’ve done that this year. All year it’s been the last pass that hasn’t stuck and we’ve been waiting for things to click. We hope it does soon because we know we’ve got a talented squad and we should be doing a lot better than we are.”