North Queensland’s heroic Cowboys have moved to play down talk of a sporting miracle as they close in on a historic NRL premiership.
Hard work and a great coach have underpinned the side’s unlikely surge to the season decider, according to the Cowboys’ new talismanic halfback Michael Morgan.
After scraping into the finals in eighth spot and without injured co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott, Morgan shed light on the club’s inspired run to Sunday’s grand final against Melbourne at ANZ Stadium.
The injury-riddled Cowboys squeezed into the playoffs after Canterbury upset St George Illawarra in the last round, before ending Cronulla’s title defence and also eliminating Parramatta and the Roosters to set up an improbable showdown with the Storm.
“We’ve worked hard while doing it. It hasn’t just been a big fairytale and things have just gone our way for no reason,” Morgan told Fox Sports before the Cowboys received a heroes’ welcome upon arrival home in Townsville on Sunday.
Morgan can’t praise coach Paul Green enough for what he’s done in the charge to the decider.
“He’s a great coach. I’ve learnt so much off him and I’m still learning,” Morgan said.
“I’ve been coached by him now since 2014 when he got here. Every year I’ve continued to learn and develop my game and he’s been a massive influence on that.
“If ever there’s certain tips for a certain part of my game, whether it’s kicking, passing, running, he’s an extremely smart coach in the way he coaches and the mindset he gets his players in and deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done this year.”
As for Melbourne, Morgan is under no illusions about the task facing his side against the dominant minor premiers who crushed Brisbane 30-0 in their preliminary final on Friday night.
“We can go one more,” Morgan said.
“Just try and limit their opportunities. They are going to get some and they’ll create their opportunities.They do that really well.”
The grand final is the first to pit the No.1 team versus eighth, the very fixture the NRL didn’t want when it scrapped the controversial McIntyre finals system in 2011.
Eerily, the last time the eighth-placed team made the grand final occurred in 2009, when the Storm’s superstar trio Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and skipper Cameron Smith, along with Greg Inglis, combined to end Parramatta’s Jarryd Hayne-inspired charge with a 23-16 victory.
That title, as well as their 2007 premiership, was subsequently stripped from the Storm for the club’s salary-cap rorting.
Eight years on and Slater, Smith and Cronk – in his emotion-charged farewell from the Storm – get the chance to finally become dual premiership winners.
As too will Morgan and up to a dozen of North Queensland’s survivors from the 2015 golden-point grand final win over Brisbane.
Whether Scott lines up, after tearing his ACL in round two more than six months ago, will be the question all week, with Green again saying the former Test prop will be included in an extended 21-man squad.