Thurston backs Morgan makeover
In 30 top grade appearances he has played halfback, five-eighth, dabbled in a bit of hooking from the bench and even been used in the centres but Cowboys superstar Johnathan Thurston believes Michael Morgan has all the tools necessary to be a success at fullback.
A season-ending knee injury to Lachlan Coote forced Cowboys coach Paul Green to re-evaluate his options at the back and rather than handing the duties to one of a host of youngsters, Green pulled a rabbit out of the hat by using Morgan at fullback for 60 minutes of Saturday night's 28-12 trial win over the Titans in Toowoomba.
In addition to his running game and bringing an extra dimension to the Cowboys ball-playing capabilities in attack, Morgan was safe under the high ball and effective in his kick returns.
While Green conceded that he had only considered the possibility of using Morgan at fullback in the wake of the injury to Coote, Thurston was adamant that the 22-year-old can make a good fist of his positional switch.
"The coaching staff spoke to a few of us about it and I did a bit of extra work with him during the week on a few things and he's like a sponge, he just took it all in and I thought he was really good tonight," Thurston said of Morgan's fullback audition.
"He was great under the high ball and his positioning at the back was really good.
"He needs to keep working hard on it – which I know he will – and I think he answered a few questions tonight.
"[Playing at fullback] brings his running game into play and he can square up and throw a long ball as well, so that's well suited to him."
For the second time in two full trials Tariq Sims and Jason Taumalolo scored tries and terrorised the edge defence and appear certain to have secured the starting second row positions for Round 1.
Strong displays from both Ray Thompson and Cameron King have them in line to share the hooking duties, leaving Green to just decide which name will appear first on the team sheet for the season-opener against Canberra.
"Right across the team I've got a few selection headaches but they're good problems to have," Green said.
"[Morgan] can be a great runner of the footy and he's got that experience growing up playing in the halves so he can ball-play on the end of our backline moves.
"Zac Santo's got some great speed and showed some really nice touches out at the end so it's made my decision harder, not easier."
At 185 centimetres and 93 kilograms Morgan is one centimetre taller and one kilogram heavier than Manly fullback Brett Stewart and Green believes his powerful running game shapes as one of his greatest assets.
"[His size] certainly helps him carrying the footy," said Green. "'Morgo' is 94-95 kilos so he's not a small man and he's got good speed as well so it makes him hard to handle. It certainly helps him on his kick-return carries."
Two tries in the final 13 minutes enabled the Cowboys to post a convincing win on the scoreboard at least but Thurston was adamant that there is still much to improve on before the opening game of the premiership proper.
"Our defence could probably be a bit better," Thurston said. "Our transition from contact to ground can be better. They poked their noses through a fair bit and found their knees and elbows which put our markers under the pump.
"We gave away a few cheap penalties so obviously our discipline can be better. Just some really dumb penalties, tackle four penalties, so there's a lot for the club to work on before we've got the Raiders in Round 1."