The perfect utility player is the full package. He should have a strong running game, a great pair of hands and be able to play in multiple positions. With Origin II less than 24 hours away, I take a look at who the better Origin utility is – Jack Bird or Michael Morgan?
Bird’s one of those rare breeds of player that can naturally fit in at almost any position. His athletic but muscular build means he’s at home in the back row or the centres, which are very similar positions anyway in the modern game. The real niche in his style, though, comes in his vision and technical ability. Unlike the majority of outside backs within the game, Bird possesses all the qualities of a halfback, as proved when he was given his first grade berth at stand-off in 2015.
Morgan lacks the versatility factor when it comes to being a utility, but isn’t one to back down from any challenge put in front of him. Having only ever played at fullback and in the halves for North Queensland he hasn’t played as much ‘forward footy’ as Bird, but has played it at a higher level. His role for Australia is similar to his role with the Maroons, so that kind of international endorsement can’t count for nothing.
Bird – 8/10
Morgan – 5/10
As previously mentioned, Bird’s experience playing as a forward means he’s no stranger to doing the hard yards. He’s strong and knows how to hit a line effectively to make plenty of metres. He also takes the ball to the line well in attack, drawing in defenders before moving the ball to create space. He’s got a decent build but isn’t the biggest player on the Origin field, which is his only downfall going forward.
Morgan, on the other hand, is a stocky player with a robust frame that allows him to hit impact well and at speed. As a secondary half at the Cowboys, he is able to play with more freedom and challenge the line, a style he looks to replicate for the Maroons. Morgan’s not your natural ball runner but has bags of pace and a great sidestep, making him difficult for defenders to cope with.
Bird – 7/10
Morgan – 6/10
This is a pretty even one, as both are effective with ball-in-hand due to their time playing in the halves. Through Bird’s time playing as a centre, he has developed a natural instinct to time his passes and offloads to near perfection, especially under pressure. In two-on-one situations, his quick decision making means he picks the right pass 99% of the time, a skill that could be vital in big games such as Origin.
Morgan doesn’t have this same kind of ability, but has established himself as one of the NRL’s best halfbacks, partly down to his handling abilities. Unlike plenty of other players, Morgan can be effective with the ball either when playing to a structure or off-the-cuff, as shown with his part in Kyle Feldt’s late try in the 2015 Grand Final. He’s never afraid to take players on and has a terrific assist record, placing in the NRL’s top 10 this season.
Bird – 7/10
Morgan – 9/10
Defence is one big blot on Bird’s copybook. He has the tenth highest missed tackle record in the NRL, with 43, made worse by the fact that almost everyone else in that top 10 are middle players who are challenged more defensively. In fact, as a percentage, Bird has the second worst record, missing 23% of his tackles this season. Whether it’s technique or positioning, defence is one aspect Bird needs to improve.
Morgan’s no warrior when it comes to tackling, but his stats show he is the better defender of the two. He’s made more tackles than Bird and also has a better missed tackle count, which counts for a lot given that he plays more central than his Cronulla counterpart. As said before, he isn’t the biggest player but doesn’t back away from a challenge.
Bird – 4/10
Morgan – 6/10
It’s a pretty even contest but Bird has more to offer as a utility, with versatility being a major attribute when playing such a role. He lacks the experience that Morgan has, but playing in such big games at just 22-years-of-age will benefit him massively going forward.
With so many changes to the Queensland side, Origin II is a tough one to predict. Squad consistency has been an important factor in previous years and with the Blues naming an unchanged squad, they will play with a similar style to game I. Regardless of the line-ups, Bird and Morgan will have huge roles to play and could turn out to be game breakers.