Cowboys flex muscle as Morgan era begins in style
The Cowboys' $5 million man Michael Morgan has stamped his authority on the North Queensland No.7 jersey in a gritty 14-6 win over the Melbourne Storm on Saturday night.
North Queensland fielded a near full-strength side against last season's runners-up on a humid night in front of a sellout crowd at Mackay's BB Print Stadium.
Morgan had a hand in two tries, produced a near-perfect kicking game and was a standout in defence for the Cowboys.
The successor to Johnathan Thurston showed few nerves in taking over as the Cowboys' No.1 shot-caller during his first hit out for North Queensland this year.
The Storm suffered a massive blow to their backline after fullback Scott Drinkwater went down in the 60th minute with a suspected torn pectoral muscle in trying to regather a short kick.
The talented fullback is set to miss a lengthy stint on the sidelines and will be assessed by club officials in the coming days.
On the back of Morgan's performance, the Cowboys showed they are genuine contenders this season by keeping the Storm to just the one try.
Both coaches would have been disappointed with their sides' completion rates. But Cowboys' mentor Paul Green would surely have been impressed by his side's defensive output.
North Queensland were held on their own line in the opening ten minutes of the game following three back-to-back penalties and costly errors.
Some scrambling defence by the Cowboys' pack kept Melbourne from converting their possession into points.
The first points of the match came at the half hour mark through Cowboys' enforcer Gavin Cooper.
Morgan threw a smart cut-out pass to winger Javid Bowen who was able to make use of space down the left hand side.
A quick play-the-ball then allowed Cooper to barge his way over.
The left edge of the Cowboys looked dangerous again from the kick-off with another break by Bowen down the sideline thanks to some quick passing by Morgan and centre Justin O'Neill.
Drinkwater was able to get the Storm on the board just before the halftime siren after gathering a well-placed grubber kick by halfback Cameron Munster.
A Cameron Smith conversion levelled the scores at 6-6 heading into halftime.
"Discipline and patience" were the key words coming out of the Melbourne Storm sheds at halftime and it was needed against a fired-up Cowboys side in the second half.
Mackay junior Mitch Dunn was dangerous from dummy-half for the Cowboys and broke open the Storm defence on a number of occasions.
O'Neill was in for the Cowboys' second try in the 50th minute through some quick hands from Morgan and Cooper to score in the left corner.
A try to centre Ben Hampton in the 70th minute took the Cowboys to a 14-6 lead which remained for the rest of the match.
Former Broncos' Jordan Kahu and Josh McGuire also did enough to show why they were such lauded recruits.
Kahu was safe at fullback for most of the night with only one error coming off his own tryline in picking up a Drinkwater grubber kick.
He almost set up a try in the 10th minute of the game with a cut-out pass to winger Kyle Feldt, but was dropped ten metres from the tryline.
Birthday boy McGuire, who turned 29 on Saturday, was solid in defence and was able to give the Cowboys valuable metres through the middle.