There are certain moments in a footballer’s playing career that steal the spotlight. Michael Morgan has had plenty of those. We can all think of at least one. The big one. But there were other moments along the way which epitomise the quality player and person Michael, better known by his mates as Morgo, has become.
Now after more than a decade at the top, the premiership winning, one time Dally M halfback of the year has called an end to his NRL career, after persistent struggles with shoulder injuries over recent seasons.
“I’ve had an amazing career. One I could only dream of as a kid,” Morgan told the media on Friday.
“I’ve been extremely lucky to be able to come in everyday for the last 11 years with my best mates and that’s what I’ll miss the most.”
It all started in 2010 when the future Maroons and Kangaroos representative was given the opportunity to fill in for an injured Jonathan Thurston, easily the most daunting task for any league player at the time.
The Cowboys would go on to win their round nine clash against the Roosters, with Cowboy #217 kicking off his decorated career.
With 168 appearances in the NRL, Morgan scored 58 tries and set up plenty more along the way. The most notable being his final second flick pass to winger Kyle Feldt during the 2015 Grand Final, a moment which etched Morgan into Australian sporting history.
“I’m lucky to have the career I had, but the 2015 Grand Final is I think right up the top,” Morgan admitted.
“I felt honoured every time I got to put on a Cowboys jersey.”
Living out his schoolboy dream to play alongside greats of the club, the Townsville Brothers junior shifted from fullback to five-eight, then later donned the fabled number seven, before going onto captain his beloved North Queensland Cowboys.
The Inner Sanctum looks back at some of his finest moments and unsung heroics.
Michael’s Origin heroics
In 2015, he made his Origin debut, named off the bench for game one to replace an injured Daly Cherry-Evans. The Maroons would go on to win that game 11-10, but the series was taken to a decider after the Blues won game two.
Coming off the interchange in game three, the Cowboys number six turned Maroons utility player took the most of a lopsided scoreline, scoring a try off his first touch of the game and setting up two others. A slick outside in play by Thurston and Guerra put Morgan through a beaming hole in the NSW defensive line scoring early in the second half. Morgan would then deliver a sublime pass to winger Darius Boyd to cross in the corner.
Playing a total of 12 times for his state and his country, Morgan proved himself as a dynamic utility player. Whether it was in the halves, at fullback or roaming as a defensive lock, Michael made sure he gave it everything in whichever position he needed to fill for the team. The most notable example being his switch to centre in the 2017 Origin series, where he delivered one of the finer Queensland moments.
Down a game and trailing 16-12 with just five minutes left to play, Morgan found himself situated out on the right edge after earlier replacing an injured Darius Boyd. Making the most of a slick set play Morgan delivered an all-time great flick pass to winger Dane Gagai to drop under and score in the dying moments. Thurston would go on to kicking the winning goal, but it was Morgan’s heroic ball skills which paved the way.
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2016 Semi-final vs the Brisbane Broncos
Locked at 20 a piece, the Cowboys and Broncos would once again head to extra time to decide who would advance to play the Cronulla Sharks in week three of the finals in 2016. With just moments left in the opening half of extra time, Morgan would back up his halfback and partner in crime, when he gathered in another stellar flick pass from Thurston.
The Cowboys five-eight found himself on the same side of the field as his halfback, combining to score one of the more awe-inspiring tries of his NRL career. Playing for the entire 90 minutes, Morgan’s last-minute try wasn’t his only impact on the game, delivering three-line break assists and two try assists to top it off. North Queensland would go on to lose their next outing against the Sharks, ending their finals campaign. But it was valuable experience. Experience Morgan would turn to when he led the team to the 2017 Grand final just 12 months later.
2017: A season for the ages
When Jonathan Thurston and Matthew Scott went down injured in the opening rounds of the 2017 NRL season, the North Queensland Cowboys were given no chance to even make the top eight. Assisted by an inform Jason Taumalolo, Morgan would lead his beloved Cowboys teammates into their second grand final in just three years, defying all expectations and proving himself as a genuine halfback.
Whether it was delivering pinpoint kicks to his outside backs in the regular season or managing his dynamic forward pack around the field in the finals, Morgan stood tall at a time when most thought the Cowboys would lie down.
With 11 tries, 22 try assists, over 7000 kicking metres and 18 forced line dropouts, the 26-year-old received the Dally M Halfback of the year award and won the hearts of the rugby league faithful once again.
Despite falling short of a fairy-tale finish to their season, the Cowboys quickly became the people’s champion in 2017, when they just scraped into the finals campaign. Spearheading that movement was Morgan. Kicking a field goal to seal a big final win against the Cronulla Sharks, the Cowboys playmaker would continue his hot streak when he took on the Parramatta Eels in week two of the finals, before an incredible playmaking performance against the Sydney Roosters in the preliminary final.
Becoming a father
Last August Michael and his partner Brianna welcomed their first child Penelope into the world. Only just bigger than a footy, Morgan’s little girl would win the hearts of the North Queensland faithful when the couple shared the news on Instagram. Michael now gets a chance to share more time embracing a new role as a father and a husband. Some things are bigger than footy and despite his love for the game, Michael now has the opportunity to create a new legacy off the field.
“It is nice to be able to go home to Penelope and Bree [Brianna]. Bree’s been on this journey for a very long time with me, so she knows the rollercoaster I’ve ridden and the battles I’ve had with my shoulder the past twelve months,” Morgan said when he announced his retirement on Friday.”
“There’s other things in life that I look forward to now.”
Now I know that you’re thinking.
You hardly spoke about the 2015 Grand Final?
Well, some things are just too good for words.
Thanks for the memories Morgo.