Broncos have learned their lesson: Hodges
Brisbane captain Justin Hodges insists his team won't be blinded by the 'JT effect' again with Broncos tormentor Michael Morgan expected to return for the Cowboys in their Qualifying Final at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
Morgan has been absent from the Cowboys' line-up for the past two weeks with an ankle injury originally thought to have ended his season while the Broncos are confident halfback Ben Hunt will return from a cork suffered in training last week.
Johnathan Thurston orchestrated North Queensland's Round 26 demolition of the Titans in a timely finals tune-up but it is the return of Morgan that has the Broncos most on edge.
Three years ago in just his 20th NRL game Morgan announced himself to the rugby league world with a hat-trick in a 33-16 Elimination Final win over the Broncos and scored again when North Queensland ended Brisbane's season 12 months ago.
Overall Morgan has scored eight tries in nine games against the Broncos and according to Hodges is proof what can happen if a team places too much emphasis on shutting down Thurston.
"I think the last couple of times he's played us he's scored a hat-trick," Hodges said of the danger presented by Morgan, who scored a hat-trick back in Round 10 against Brisbane.
"That just goes to show when you put too much pressure on one player (Thurston) you tend to forget about the other players who can put points on you.
"We know what type of player 'Morgo' is. He's very fast and agile on his feet so I'm pretty sure he's going to be up for a big game as well."
A teammate of Thurston's at Origin and Test level since 2006, Hodges said at Monday's captains' call that it was impossible to shut the Cowboys co-captain out of the game and that the Broncos would simply be trying to minimise the damage he causes.
"You can't really shut him down, you've just got to try and move up on him quick and play a little bit earlier," said the 33-year-old who will retire at the end of the finals series.
"Then you've got guys like 'Morgo' and Lachlan Coote at the back and their great forwards as well.
"You can't really put too much focus and energy on one player because there are so many other strike players there.
"But with Johno you've just got to try and minimise his time with the ball."
Despite having won just 11 times in 41 meetings with the Broncos, the Cowboys have won all three finals clashes between the two teams, all of which have been played in Townsville.
A Cairns boy who was 13 when the Cowboys entered the competition 20 years ago, Hodges said that Broncos players are aware of their finals record against North Queensland and have been looking over their shoulders in the run in to the finals.
"It's not a good stat but that's in the past now. We're a whole different side," Hodges said.
"I've been watching the table for a while, seeing where you sit and who's behind you and in front of you and you could see [a Week 1 showdown with the Cowboys] was going to pan out for a little bit.
"It's always a hard task when you play the Cowboys. They've got so many classy players and obviously led by the most competitive player in the league in 'Thursto'.
"It's going to be a hard game and a great way to open up the finals series up home at Suncorp with a packed house."