Will Michael Morgan stay or go?
North Queensland star Michael Morgan has outlined how teammates Johnathan Thurston and Gavin Cooper helped him overcame a fear of failure and self-doubt at a critical moment of his stellar 2017 season.
In a wide ranging interview with NRL.com the off-contract Cowboys half has detailed why money won't be a motivating factor when he signs his next deal, his innermost thoughts on embracing the playmaker role when Thurston was injured in 2017 and the expectation that he will carry if he is to play a key role in the halves for the Maroons in the future.
Morgan has conceded that stepping into Thurston's shoes last year was a nerve wracking experience initially, but a challenge he was determined to rise to.
"I was a bit nervous and had that fear of failure to start with when Johnno first went down for the year," Morgan told NRL.com.
"The main talk about the team then, with Matt Scott already gone, and then Johnno going down not too long afterwards was that we weren't too much of a chance and that it would be a season that would just go by and people would look forward to 2018.
"In that way it took a bit of pressure off but I certainly had pressure on myself and I wanted to achieve something. We certainly did that as a team, proved a lot of people wrong and enjoyed doing it along the way."
I don't want to be chasing money. I want to be part of a team that over a period of time was very successful.Michael Morgan
Morgan isn't too proud to ask for advice and did seek out key figures whom he respects to provide a guiding hand after a big Cowboys loss.
"I had a couple of different conversations with people, and one I've spoken about before with Cooper Cronk in the [Anzac] Test week," he said.
"I had a conversation with Gavin Cooper and JT himself when we had a game against Parramatta up here and lost [26-6] in round nine, and that was before that Test week.
"There were a couple of conversations around that period that made me relax with it I think.
"I was probably, not trying too hard, but over-thinking things and not being clear with what I was doing, and maybe not having enough confidence in myself that I could get things done.
"I tried to go back to enjoying footy again and not putting too much pressure on myself. I've found that when I'm enjoying my footy that I am playing better."
There were question marks in the media in 2017 about whether Morgan could step up in Thurston's absence in the way he ultimately did.
NRL 360 co-host Ben Ikin told NRL.com recently that even he had doubts about whether Morgan had the game to step into the chief playmaker role.
"That [doubt] is always going to be there and I don't think anyone could come in and do what JT does or be JT," Morgan said.
"I didn't have it in my head that that's what I had to do, because it would have been extremely hard.
"My motivation wasn't to be anything like him, but to develop my own game and try and be winning games while doing that.
"Last year I definitely learned a lot, developed my game a lot more and in the long run for my career I think it was really good for me."
Morgan wants to be in the halves for the Maroons long term, but conceded that whoever did fill the two positions left by Cooper Cronk and Thurston would have huge expectations upon them.
"I'd love the opportunity to be there and I know they have both been a huge part of the team for a number of years now, and a lot of the team's success at times has come off the back of them," he said.
"One of them has kicked a field goal to win by one point or set up the try that decides the game.
"So whoever is there, there will be a lot of expectation I guess and big shoes to fill.
"Before JT and Coops there were guys like Darren Lockyer, who was there for so long. There is an opportunity for a couple of players and hopefully I have the chance to be one of them."
The Cowboys have earmarked Morgan as the successor to Thurston when he retires at the end of the season and intend to make him an offer which reflects that.
Morgan has given his most emphatic indication yet of his intention to stay with the Cowboys and ensure the club remains a powerhouse.
He has also outlined how potential success on the field, rather than riches off it, would drive his own plans.
"As a player, I am not motivated by the money side of it," he said.
"I want to be a successful player and someone who had a career playing finals footy and hopefully playing in more grand finals.
"I don't want to be chasing money. I want to be part of a team that over a period of time was very successful. That would make me more proud, to look back at my career if I had a career like that."
Morgan said he expected contract talks to ramp up now that he and his manager Paul Sutton were back from holidays and the World Cup was behind him.
While prepared to consider other offers, Morgan said he expected to stay at the Cowboys and continue to develop his game.
"I have spoken to the Cowboys and they told me they are keen for me to stay," he said.
"It will happen. I don't think it will take too long. I wouldn't like it to take too long and I am not someone who would like it … being a big deal across the game.
"I'd rather get it done quietly and go on playing footy.
"I'm not going to leave here for the sake of it.
"I'd want it to be a good opportunity for myself and somewhere where I could keep developing my game.
"At the moment I can see myself doing that here."
Morgan noted the "huge" 10-year commitment made by his good mate Jason Taumalolo and how that was going to attract others players to link with the Cowboys.
He added that if off-contract coach Paul Green re-signed with the club, as is expected, that would be "another tick to the Cowboys".
"He is a great coach and I love being coached by him, so that will be a huge factor as well," he said.