Townsville Bulletin - - SPORT - JON TUXWORTH

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.”

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