Morgan makes play for key Maroons selection
UNDERFIRE Michael Morgan last night fired the first shot in Queensland's Origin playmaking shootout to spearhead the Cowboys' 30-14 caning of the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium.
For years at club level, Morgan has been touted as the Cowboys player most capable of succeeding Johnathan Thurston when the champion playmaker eventually walks into the sunset.
Now, with Thurston (shoulder) racing the clock to be fit for Origin I, Morgan demonstrated why he must be Queensland coach Kevin Walters' Plan B for the No.6 jumper.
In a high-octane weekend, Morgan, Daly-Cherry Evans, Anthony Milford and Corey Norman are auditioning for the right to succeed the talismanic Thurston in Maroon.
Test coach Mal Meninga is adamant Morgan is the answer and the Cowboys pivot franked that assessment with his best game of the season at Homebush.
With Walters watching on, Morgan, Queensland's No.14 incumbent, blitzed the Bulldogs. He scored a first-half solo try before setting up four others - including a double for Coen Hess - to prove there is life without Thurston at club and Origin level.
Not even a minor ankle injury to Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote could overshadow a mesmeric Morgan display that has turned up the heat on his Maroons rivals.
"I was really proud of Morgs' game," Cowboys coach Paul Green said.
"He came back from that week in Test camp with the (Australian) side and he wanted to step up and run the show and I was proud he did that.
"He didn't do his (Origin chances) any harm, he certainly stepped up."
While Morgan was magnificent, Canterbury were clueless. They trailed 18-0 at half-time and not even a brief second-half fightback could halt a Cowboys side that leapfrogged the Bulldogs into the top eight with their sixth win of the season.
Morgan was ably supported by unheralded prop Scott Bolton, who was so dominant he even outperformed metre-eater Jason Taumalolo with his 153m haul.
On a greasy surface, the contest was won in midfield. The Bulldogs' big boppers were slow and pedestrian. The Cowboys were sharp, hungry and energetic.
"They are a big pack and we showed some good intent," Green said. "We didn't look for anything cheap, we were happy to get into the arm wrestle.
"The week off came at a good time for us, it gave us a chance to improve."
With the Cowboys winning the middle-third, it allowed the visitors to flourish on the fringes.
Critically, it gave Morgan the latitude to find confidence in his forte - his running game. With a dark cloud hovering over his Origin form, Morgan found his silver lining, terrorising bigger Bulldogs forwards with his speed and footwork in traffic.
When Kyle Feldt touched down for his first try of the season in the sixth minute, the portents for a Cowboys boilover were ominous.
A clever Morgan grubber for Hess in the 35th minute gave the Cowboys a handy 18-0 half-time lead.
When Hess crossed again from a replica kick nine minutes after the break, the Bulldogs were shot ... and Morgan had made his Origin statement.