WHEN a star playmaker is out, his halves partner usually lifts. The Cowboys know that firsthand.
It’s why they’re bracing for Warriors ace Kieran Foran ( pictured) to “do a Michael Morgan” and take on more responsibility as his team deals with life without Shaun Johnson.
The Cowboys have refused to let the loss of Johnathan Thurston for the year be a convenient excuse, winning their last three games without their champion halfback.
Morgan’s willingness to take on a bigger role has been a huge reason why the Cowboys have kept themselves in the top four hunt.
Johnson sustained a knee injury which is set to keep him sidelined for the next six weeks, effectively the season if the Warriors can’t make finals.
But as Morgan has proven, losing your main man can ensure others reach new heights and it’s why the Cowboys are wary of the Kiwi international.
Foran has copped criticism across the ditch for allegedly lacking commitment to the Warriors in recent games after signing with Canterbury from next season.
The Cowboys have thrived on critics dismissing their chances without Thurston, and the Warriors are likely to use similar talk around Johnson as motivation.
“Teams do lift when a player of that calibre drops out and they feel like they have to step up to fill that role,” O’Neill said.
“I know players in our team have really stepped up this year ( with Thurston out) and taken their opportunity with both hands.
“We’re going to expect the same thing ( from the Warriors) come game day.
“I think we’re doing really well for a team who has lost their captains ( Thurston and Matt Scott). Everyone’s rallied around and come together as a team.”
Mason Lino, whose only three NRL games came at the end of 2015, has been named to replace Johnson.
The Cowboys will start hot favourites to effectively end the Warriors’ slim finals hopes, but complacency won’t be an issue after dropping home games they were expected to win this year against Wests Tigers and Parramatta.
“They’re some of the games we were really disappointed in at the start of the year and it’s something we can’t get back,” Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt said.
“Ever since then we’ve really dug deep at home and shown we trying to call it our fortress again, like we did a couple of years ago.
“Even though they are missing Johnson they’ve got ( fullback) Roger TuivasaSheck, Foran has found some good form lately and ( hooker) Issac Luke. That’s three really good players they have in their spine.”