Manufactured fullback Michael Morgan shapes as the Cowboys' all-important Origin trump card after playing yet another starring role in North Queensland's 27-14 defeat of Brisbane on Friday night.
The Cowboys will host the Roosters next Saturday night before chief playmaker Johnathan Thurston is whisked away on Origin duty with Queensland but the recent performances of Morgan will give coach Paul Green hope that his side can navigate what have in the past been barren waters.
When Thurston was absent for three games during last year's Origin Series the Cowboys went 0-3 but the rapid development of Morgan into a dangerous playmaking option on the edges has added an extra dimension they so desperately need in Thurston's absence.
From a crunching try-saving tackle on a rampaging Matt Gillett in the fourth minute to a high-speed chase of a runaway Daniel Vidot early in the second half, a line break and 173 running metres, Morgan made a sizeable contribution to a victory that put the Cowboys back into the top eight and drew high praise from his coach.
"Some of Morgo's efforts tonight were unbelievable," said Green. "Early in the game his one-on-one tackle on Gillett was just unbelievable; his chase back on that intercept again was a great effort and 'Morgo' is getting better each week."
That Morgan is even playing fullback at all is due only to a cruel knee injury to Lachlan Coote at the Auckland Nines but while that problem has been satisfactorily resolved, Green is still juggling his options at No.7
Ray Thompson helped to steer North Queensland to a 42-14 win over Parramatta in Round 8 but a knee injury that needed an extra day or two to recover opened the door again for Robert Lui to stake his claim against the Broncos.
Lui produced two line breaks of his own in running for 133 metres and Green conceded that it will be a difficult decision to determine who partners Thurston in the halves against the Roosters.
"It's a nice headache to have," said Green. "I was really happy for Robbie the way he responded. He got his opportunity this week and played really well so it is a headache but it's a good headache to have."
Green described Matthew Scott's 237 metres, two line breaks and try as inspirational but was most impressed by the second efforts of his men in defence, in particular a spectacular pushing back of Broncos fullback Ben Barba to force a goal-line dropout late in the game.
Brisbane five-eighth Josh Hoffman appeared set to be grounded in-goal before he slipped an audacious pass to Barba on the goal-line who for a moment looked set to break free. But as quickly as that space in front of him had materialised, Cowboys defenders came from everywhere to close it down and force Barba back across the goal-liine.
"It shows that the real team buy-in and will to compete," Green said. "That was a huge effort. It was a great play by them to get the ball away. I thought we had Hoffman locked up in there and he got the ball away to Barba but we didn't give up on the play.
"That was a massive point in the game – not a turning point – but I felt we got a huge lift off the back of it and it was great to see."
Thurston sent a scare through the Cowboys camp when he went down with a head knock 25 minutes into the first half but after being assessed by the club doctor for concussion was back on the field inside 10 minutes.
Broncos forward David Hala was not so successful when he was assessed for concussion late in the first half, his collision with Jason Taumalolo doing sufficient damage to rule him out for the remainder of the game.