The night is darkest before the dawn – just ask Michael Morgan.
The white-hot North Queensland five-eighth is on the brink of his biggest moment yet in rugby league after he was called into Queensland’s Origin I training camp at Sanctuary Cove to replace the injured Daly Cherry-Evans.
But Morgan wouldn’t find himself in the thick of Camp Maroon if it wasn’t for a personal tragedy that shaped his life, and consequently his career, less than two years ago.
The untimely passing of close friend and Cowboys teammate Alex Elisala in late 2013 shook Morgan to his core, tested his love for the game and made him re-evaluate and re-prioritise everything he previously held dear.
It was like losing a brother – Elisala had moved to Townsville from Brisbane when he was in Year 10 and instantly struck friendship with Morgan, the pair sharing many classes at school.
They soon shared a bedroom, when Elisala moved into the Morgan family home in Year 12.
They played football together at school and club level, then through the Cowboys under 20s program, competing for couch space while watching State of Origin clashes at home and dreaming of one day taking part.
Morgan will do so next week, but only because of the “new look” on football and life Elisala’s tragic death provided him.
“It was a huge part of my life, one of the toughest experiences I’ve ever been through,” Morgan said.
“That year midway through I was sort of over footy and I had a couple of surgeries that year, I was looking forward to getting them done and start 2014 fresh.
“It worked out that it was able to happen like that.
“I hadn’t really achieved a lot in first grade by then but I was playing Q Cup that year … we got a new coach, the club changed a lot, (I) played a new position so lucky for me things actually did change.”
Morgan said he has learned there are more important things in life than rugby league.
“At that time it showed me that footy was nowhere near the most important thing in the world to me,” he said.
“It just made me relax more about it and not to get overly stressed about it because there are a lot worse things in life that can happen, so just try and enjoy it while it’s going well and make the most of it.”
Morgan was named Queensland’s 18th man last year, but unless coach Mal Meninga opts to beef up his bench by bringing in rampaging Roosters bookend Dylan Napa, he will finally make his Origin debut.
“Just looking at how different players take it, a lot of them stay pretty relaxed so if I can learn anything on them that’s what I’ll try to do – not to get too overawed by the occasion and try and enjoy the experience,” he said.