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From the highest of highs starring in North Queensland's first ever premiership to being forced into an early retirement at just 29, Cowboys star Michael Morgan reflects on some life-changing moments throughout his storied rugby league career.

As a full-time rugby league player from the moment he finished high school, Morgan was unprepared for the swiftness with which his professional career ended.

But the chance to be a full-time dad to new daughter Penelope was a silver lining as Morgan also tackled some study and cast his mind to post-playing career options.

Morgan shared his experiences of the swings and roundabouts of professional sport with as part of Youi's 'Life Changing Moments' series.

"Any time you win a premiership would be life-changing but to be part of the team to first do it for the Cowboys was very special and to be from the region as well makes it extra special for me personally," Morgan said.

The five-eighth featured heavily in the highlight reels of that dramatic game, throwing the incredible flick-pass in a frantic final minute of regular play to put his winger Kyle Feldt over in the corner to level the scores.

The try that turned the tide

"It's nice that I can have a moment go down in history within the game," Morgan said.

"Now that I'm finished, looking back, it's nice to have a moment like that that gets shown each year, each grand final the replays come out again. I don't think I'll ever get sick of seeing it!

"I'm glad that I could have a moment that gets remembered."

Thurston nails the match winner

Morgan said there is absolutely nothing that can compare to the elation of seeing Johnathan Thurston's extra-time field goal sail between the posts to clinch the game.

"I've never had a feeling like it and I've come to terms with the fact that I probably never will again," he said.

"It's hard to describe. It's a sense of satisfaction, relief, joy, a whole heap of emotions built into one."

The premiership was significant for plenty of reasons but the flow-on effects included creating a broader understanding of the quality of the Cowboys roster beyond just Thurston, and a boost for the likes of Morgan and Jason Taumalolo for their magical run to the 2017 decider in Thurston's absence.

"I think that was probably the biggest difference that year [2015] – JT obviously had a very good year that year as well, but I think everyone else was very good at doing what they had to do, doing their jobs, and that made his job easier," Morgan said.

"For a long time it was just JT carrying the Cowboys but that year I thought there were games we were losing throughout the year and someone else would come up with the play to win it rather than it always being JT.

"That was the year that really changed the image for the Cowboys. It proved a point that it was no longer a one-man team."

Match Highlights: Broncos v Cowboys

In terms of what was to come in 2017, it gave Morgan a template to go off in some ways.

"It wasn't as new as the first time I did it," he added.

"All the events, the occasion, I'd been there before so it gave me a bit of peace of mind, if anything. Although it would have been nice to be on the other end of the scoreboard!"

The other huge life-changing career event came much more recently, when Morgan was forced into premature retirement at just 29 by a chronic shoulder issue this year.

"It was different, a little bit emotional," Morgan said.

"The decision was in a way made for me so it wasn't my decision in the end … I don't know if it made it easier, the fact I gave myself every chance to be OK and to get through and keep playing because the rest of my body was really good. If anything it sort of helped the decision that it was made for me and I'm grateful I got to do plenty before I got to that time."

Morgan admits the experience, and the sudden realisation he had to start thinking about what comes next, was "daunting".

"It's one while I was playing I was always a bit fearful of, the thought of retirement and what to do afterwards because I wasn't sure," he said.

"I'd been playing rugby league since I was 17. It was always a daunting decision and brought forward a little more than I'd liked but I'm slowly figuring it out."

So far that has included a bit of study, a bit of work with the club (put on the backburner once the team had to go into the COVID bubble a few months ago) and being a full-time dad to Penelope.

"It would have been a lot more difficult if I needed to make a decision straight away and go straight into something but the fact I can give myself a bit of time off, relax a bit, enjoy being a father and doing those little things I love has been nice," he said.

"I've actually enjoyed [watching football], not having the public scrutiny, media scrutiny, the negative parts about the game, I was able to sit back and watch it all as a spectator this year. Not being held responsible for how our team performed or my performance. It's been a bit of a mental relief to sit back and watch like anyone else.

"Having weekends back, you can go away and do what you want. A lot more freedom compared to what you have in the middle of a season."

Life Changes series: Ben Hunt

Morgan was also pleased to start learning that he had in fact developed some life skills through his footballing career that will prove transferrable, from leadership skills and teamwork to dealing with media and sponsors and public speaking.

"It wasn't until I finished and people made that point to me," he said.

"I thought I was finishing off as a 30-year-old uneducated rugby league player whereas there's things throughout my career I have learned. Life skills that will hold me in good stead going forward no matter what career I choose.

"The leadership things you deal with, dealt with a lot of media over my time, you meet a lot of people along the way. Your people skills – talking to major sponsors and bosses of different corporations, that kind of thing. You do learn some life skills that hold you in good stead and it wasn't until I finished that I realised that.

"It opened my eyes a lot more to what's out there and more to what I've done off the field as opposed to thinking about just on the field playing football. There was so much more I'd done off the field that I didn't realise I'd done or experienced. It wasn't until I'd finished I realised I'd done those things while I was playing."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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