The experts say North Queensland can’t win the NRL premiership without Michael Morgan. Paul Green begs to differ.
“He’s a terrific player, I can understand why they’d say that,” the Cowboys coach said.
“But I don’t necessarily agree.”
Either way, someone is about to be proved right.
The Cowboys are now preparing for a finals campaign without Morgan, the man who has transformed their team this year and allowed the world’s best player, Johnathan Thurston, to somehow find another level.
Both Morgan (ankle) and front-rower James Tamou (neck) have been sidelined indefinitely, putting a huge dent into North Queensland’s hopes of capturing a maiden NRL title.
Tamou could be back next week but it is the syndesmosis injury to Morgan that has placed what seemed an inevitable top-two finish for the Cowboys into grave doubt.
Without him, league legends including Peter Sterling believe North Queensland are no longer a serious contender.
Green remains “hopeful” of Morgan making an early return but typically, injuries like the one he suffered against the Warriors on Saturday take at least four weeks to recover from.
That means in a best case scenario, North Queensland will have their first-choice playmaking combination back for the third week of the finals.
“He’s a quick healer so hopefully he’s back soon,” Thurston said.
“He’s obviously going to be missing for a while but you saw during the Origin period, when players are missing we’ve had boys come in and do a job for us. We’ll be expecting the same.”
It’s a reasonable argument to lean back on.
For all the disruptions and distractions of Origin, the Cowboys lost just one game between March and the start of this month.
Green and his players will be clinging to that record as proof that North Queensland are not a spent force.
“One of the most pleasing things when we look back this year is when guys have been asked to step up and do a job, they’ve all been able to do that,” Green said.
Ray Thompson has been named to replace Morgan at five-eighth for Saturday night’s clash with Melbourne, and Green has given the 25-year-old a very simple brief – keep it simple.
“Play his part in the team. Do his job,” Green said.
Tamou, meanwhile, has been cleared of any major damage to his neck and is viewed as a “week-to-week” proposition.
The NSW Origin prop battled neck issues through the pre-season and looked in strife when he was felled by New Zealand’s Simon Mannering halfway through Saturday’s clash in Auckland.
Back-rower Gavin Cooper has come into the Cowboys side in his place, with Ben Hannant to move to prop alongside co-captain Matt Scott.