Cowboys’ dynamic duo develop new powers
THEY orchestrated all four of their side's tries against the Storm in last Friday night's trial in Brisbane, and already boast a premiership to their name, but Cowboys coach Paul Green insists the combination between Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan remains a work in progress.
Having performed the role of dutiful understudy for the previous two seasons Morgan elevated his game in the absence of Thurston last year to such an extent that he and Thurston now share the lead roles in the Cowboys attack.
Given the occasion of his testimonial match in conjunction with great mate Cameron Smith it was fitting that Thurston sealed a 16-14 win with a skilfully constructed kick off the outside of his right boot for Kyle Feldt to complete his hat-trick.
But the underlying storyline was that of Morgan and how his status as the Cowboys' chief playmaker in the future is already coming to fruition.
As Thurston barked at his forwards and challenged the Storm defence around the ruck with darting runs that provided for a stern test of the right shoulder that forced a premature end to his 2017 season, Morgan waited patiently to put apply the polish to the end of their sets.
It was a difficult task given the atrocious conditions in which the game was played but such is the 26-year-old's confidence he made the challenging look common place.
A kick to the corner for Feldt to take an extraordinary one-handed catch was perfectly executed and the cut-out pass in pouring rain for Feldt's second was a masterclass in exploiting a short side.
Thurston was a supportive observer as Morgan guided the Cowboys to last year's grand final and says he is now happy to begin the process of handing the reins to his anointed successor.
"He's obviously a lot more vocal out there and he's calling the shots out there too," Thurston said after the pair's first game together since Round 14 last season.
"It's nice to see his development over the last 12 months.
"He's not afraid to call the shots which is all part of him growing.
"He's obviously the future of our club so going to enjoy the next few months with him."
Despite his status as the go-to man at the Cowboys for more than a decade, Thurston denied there was any issues with him ceding some of the control of the side's fortunes in his last season in the NRL.
"Not at all," Thurston countered. "That's what we encourage from our playmakers.
"If they see something in front of them then to make sure they get the ball in their hands and he's not afraid to do that.
"Our coaching staff are always encouraging us to play with our eyes up so if he sees something when he's calling the shots, then there's a lot of communication out there."
Knowing he's got one last shot at a Cowboys premiership with Thurston as part of his squad, Green knows the success of his team in 2018 will depend very much on his star halves striking the right balance in attack.
"We all saw what 'Morgo' did last year," said Green.
"I think he came up to the level that we all hoped he could get to so it's about balancing that and getting the best out of both of them.
"It can certainly get better. That's the first game they've played back together since Johno hurt his shoulder.
"At times there tonight we saw glimpses of it so hopefully it can get better as the season progresses."