Cowboys veteran Gavin Cooper says budding superstar Michael Morgan is better prepared than ever to fill the void of Johnathan Thurston in Saturday's game against the Storm.
Morgan's irresistible form at fullback in 2014 set tongues wagging league-wide and has proved only a mere stepping stone toward a dominant role next to Thurston in the halves over the past two years.
His introduction to the Queensland Maroons team for State of Origin I last year only confirmed what then-coach Mal Meninga expected of the Townsville junior – that his reputed leadership and dedication to craft were real.
Cooper, who finally made his Origin debut at the age of 30 this year, has witnessed Morgan's growth as a player since then and says the 24-year-old is ready to truly lead the way this weekend.
"'Morgo' has really grown as a player the last two years he's played rep footy and the year before that playing at fullback," Cooper said.
"His game sense now is second-to-none compared to what it was when 'Greeny' threw him at fullback and that's something that we really look to. He didn't look out of place on the weekend when he came back after [a month out injured].
"You saw the try he set up for 'Juz-e' (Justin O'Neill), footy comes naturally to him.
"It's just leading us around which is going to be a little bit more of a weight on his shoulders, but it's nothing he can't handle."
Minus Thurston in the second half of last week's game, Morgan headed the charge as the Cowboys piled on 20 unanswered points in the second 40 minutes.
On top of his organisational play Morgan took the fifth-tackle duties off regular second-choice kicker Lachlan Coote, making six second-half kicks while Coote settled for just one after half-time.
"[Morgan] barks orders at training all the time too," Cooper said.
"He's a little bit undercover, 'Morgo', he's a little bit of a mischief maker. It will be a good opportunity for him if we go without 'JT'… it will be a big opportunity for the boys to step in and 'Morgo' will be one of those guys."
Standalone captain this week Matt Scott joined the chorus of support for one of the club's future leaders, saying the 35-minute period without Thurston last week was the most impressive he had seen in his time with the club.
"It's probably the best I've seen it in my time at the Cowboys," he said.
"I think the structures 'Greeny' has put in place and the development of guys like 'Cootey', 'Morgs' and Jakey Granville coming through has really given us a lot of confidence as a team to be able to perform without 'Johnno'.
"I haven't seen the team perform as well as we did with [Thurston] coming off the field. It's usually an adjustment and we go into our shell a bit… it's a good sign if 'JT' is not in the team."