Rugby League


Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan face a nervous night against the Canberra Raiders in the NRL

If you think Johnathan Thurston is nervous before his rematch with Josh Papalii's Canberra in Townsville on Saturday night, spare a thought for his North Queensland teammate Michael Morgan.

Thurston may be one of the world's best players but he will be forgiven for running out an anxious man in the Cowboys' season opener after Papalii all but promised a repeat of his battering of the North Queensland pivot from last year.

Raiders wrecking-ball Papalii crushed Queensland colleague Thurston to set up Canberra's round 17 win the last time the two teams met.

While Papalii has not backed down this week from repeating the punishment in the season opener, Morgan would arguably be the North Queensland player sweating most on Saturday night.

Morgan will attempt to fill the big shoes left by the Cowboys favourite son Matt Bowen when he runs out as the unlikely choice as North Queensland fullback.


Lachlan Coote had been poached from Penrith to become the Cowboys No.1 after Bowen left for England in the off-season.

But a last-minute vacancy was created when Coote went down with a knee injury at the Auckland Nines.

Still, few would have picked Morgan - a former halfback, five-eighth, back-up hooker and sometime centre for North Queensland - to fill the void.

It appeared to be new Cowboys coach Paul Green's first gamble - but co-captain Matt Scott backed the bold call.

''I love the idea,'' Test prop Scott said.

''As bad as the injury was for Cootey - terrible news for him - this might be the little chance that Morgs has been looking for. He's been in and out of the position of half, not really cementing a spot there, and he's come out and shown a real talent at fullback. He's taken to it really easily.''

Morgan has been pummelled by high balls at training in a taste of things to come from Canberra.

Scott was also confident Thurston had nothing to worry about despite the looming Papalii juggernaut.

He said young back-rower Jason Taumalolo would be the perfect bodyguard on the left edge for Thurston after forcing Tariq Sims out of the starting pack thanks to a pre-season sparked by the club's stunning Auckland Nines triumph.