They shared the credit for the greatest on-field victory either ever experienced in rugby league, but for Johnathan Thurston the magical flick pass delivered by Michael Morgan in the 2015 grand final surprisingly doesn’t top his list of memories about his superstar ex-teammate.
Neither does Morgan’s incredible hot streak in 2017 that unexpectedly brought about the Cowboys’ second grand final in three years even as Thurston was relegated to the sidelines due to injury.
Nope, for Thurston, while those moments were special, they paled in comparison to the time shared together off the field over more than a decade as they forged a wonderful friendship.
“The things that I remember about him are not really the things that we did on the field,” Thurston told Wide World of Sports in a special tribute to Morgan on JT’s Roast and Toast.
“While we’ll always see those highlights, it’s definitely the friendship over the years and it’s been one hell of a ride for him and he should be very proud of everything he’s been able to achieve.
“He’s got a fair bit of gee up in him too so he loves to take the mickey out of himself, he loves to take the mickey out of the boys as well, so there’s never a dull moment around Michael Morgan.
“He’s always geeing the boys up, he’s always fun to be around so it was really enjoyable to play alongside him for so long and watch him become the man he is today.”
Morgan was forced to retire from the NRL today, nine months shy of his 30th birthday, no thanks to a chronic shoulder injury that has dogged the last few years of his career.
He still had the best part of three seasons to run on a deal worth about $1 million-a-year – a deal that looked good value when he led the Cowboys through a fairytale finals run in 2017 but has become a problem more recently as Morgan’s body let him down.
Thurston lamented the sad ending to Morgan’s career and gave an insight into what made him a club favourite, off the field as well as on it.
While it was hard to get one past him on the field, Thurston said it was an even tougher task during bonding sessions.
“He’s one that never succumbs to peer pressure,” Thurston said with a grin. “There’s been plenty of times when we’ve tried to get him to have a shot of alcohol or scull a beer and if he doesn’t want to do it he just says ‘no’ and it’s very hard to get him.
“There’s been a couple of times when we’ve got him to have a shot of Sambuca or scull a beer, but when he says no he says no. He’s a very strong minded person.”
That stubbornness may have convinced a younger Morgan to prolong his attempt to get his shoulder right, with Thurston considering his resilience and work ethic among his top qualities.
“One of the things that epitomises Michael Morgan is, not many people know this but he’s actually quite tough,” Thurston said with a wry smile.
“He’s had a lot of injuries that he’s had to overcome in his career but he’s a very resilient bloke, determined and got a really good work ethic as well. They’re just some of the characteristics that he displays day in and day out.”
However a huge milestone in Morgan’s life was the birth of his first child, daughter Penelope, last year.
Thurston said the family man in Morgan would of played a part in his decision; a long life still ahead with a partner who’s supported him throughout his rugby league career after they met in high school.
“He’s got a beautiful young family who’ve supported him. His high school sweetheart Bri (Brianna) and now little Penelope as well, so yeah, now’s the next chapter of their lives moving forward,” Thurston said.
“It’s very unfortunate for them, the way that his career’s come to an end. In saying that he can be incredibly proud with what he’s achieved in the game and I’m looking forward to having a few reds with him and not having to worry about going to training the next day.”
Thurston said Morgan would go down as one of the greatest players in Cowboys history and said his path from the junior ranks of the club through to a premiership-winner and club captain was exactly the kind of success story the Cowboys had been introduced to the NRL for.
“No doubt he’ll be right up there,” Thuirston said.
“He’s a local product, born and raised in Townsville, and that’s what the Cowboys were designed to do when they came into the competition, was to keep the talent in north Queensland playing for the Cowboys.
“There’s been many of them over the years but no doubt Michael Morgan is right up there with the best ever to lace up the boots for the Cowboys.”
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