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Morgan wins battle for Kangaroos' No.6 jersey

Australian Kangaroos player Michael Morgan (centre) is seen during training in Brisbane. Australia will play their opening Rugby League World Cup game against England in Melbourne on October 27. Picture: Dan Peled/AAP
Australian Kangaroos player Michael Morgan (centre) is seen during training in Brisbane. Australia will play their opening Rugby League World Cup game against England in Melbourne on October 27. Picture: Dan Peled/AAP

FORMER Townsville Brothers junior Michael Morgan has fulfilled his ultimate childhood dream by being named as Australia's Rugby League World Cup five-eighth.

Morgan saw off strong competition from the Storm's Cameron Munster and Sharks veteran James Maloney to win first crack at the Kangaroos No. 6 jersey when Australia takes on England in Friday night's World Cup opening game.

Morgan takes over Australia's five-eigth duties from Test incumbent and Cowboys teammate Johnathan Thurston, whose shoes Morgan filled during North Queensland's run through to the NRL grand final.

Morgan now has a massive chance to prove he can be Australia's long-term successor for Thurston, who has retired from representative rugby league to concentrate on his 2018 NRL swan song.

But Morgan must prove he can do the job from game one, with Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga saying every player named in Australia's World Cup squad would be given an opportunity to play.

Cowboys-bound prop Jordan McLean was also named on Australia's bench after receiving his maiden Test call up, along with Wade Graham and Dane Gagai.

"I'm under no illusions there's plenty of competition," Morgan said.

"All of my games bar one for Australia have been off the bench in a different role, so it's where I prefer to play.

Morgan will star alongside incumbent Test halfback Cooper Cronk, who Morgan has credited with playing a pivotal role his stellar rise from Thurston's club offsider to starting Test playmaker.

Morgan revealed Cronk gave him some words of advice during this year's Anzac Test in Canberra, where Morgan played off the bench.

"In that Test week, if you had of told me then that I had the opportunity to partner him in the halves in a World Cup, I wouldn't have thought it was true," he said.

Morgan recently spoke of his desire to play at five-eighth despite strong claims by Munster, who helped steer Melbourne to the NRL premiership with their comprehensive grand final win over the Cowboys, and Maloney, who has played two games for Australia.

But it was Morgan's stellar form, and ability to take over the play making reins from Thurston at club level that saw him placed at the forefront.

A strong performance against Wayne Bennett's England squad would strengthen Morgan cause, but even then Morgan says recent form will not guarantee he retains the No. 6 spot.

"I think more can come into it at times, whether it's combinations of things like that, or who's more suited to the team we're playing against," Morgan said.

"There's more things to come into it than just that, and I know that.

"Again I'm very happy to be here and be a part of the squad, and hopefully throughout the tournament I can get a chance."

Former North Queensland Cowboys Under-20s forward Felise Kaufusi, who played alongside Morgan in the Cowboys' NYC side, was named on Australia's extended bench for Friday's opener.

Australia's 21-man squad will be reduced to a 17-man team an hour before kick-off.

Australian team to face England

1 Billy Slater

2 Dane Gagai

3 Will Chambers

4 Josh Dugan

5 Valentine Holmes

6 Michael Morgan

7 Cooper Cronk

8 Aaron Woods

9 Cameron Smith (c)

10 David Klemmer

11 Boyd Cordner (vc)

12 Matt Gillett

13 Jake Trbojevic

Interchange:

14 Wade Graham

15 Jordan McLean

16 Josh McGuire

17 Tyson Frizell

18 Reagan Campbell-Gillard

19 Ben Hunt

20 Tom Trbojevic

21 Felise Kaufusi

Topics:  kangaroos michael morgan rugby league world cup