NORTH Queensland have issued a hands-off warning to rival clubs targeting Michael Morgan as they prepare a $3.2 million upgrade for the NRL superstar they see as a future club captain.
Morgan will receive the richest deal of his career after his superb form has catapulted the Cowboys into Sunday night's grand final against Melbourne.
The Queensland Origin ace is off contract next season and would be the hottest playmaking property in the code if he opted to test his value on the open market.
Up to five NSW clubs are reportedly ready to pounce on Morgan with $6 million war chests. The expected five-year offers would start at $1.1 million a season but increase to $1.5 million over the course of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, making Morgan one of the richest players in the game.
But the Cowboys insist Morgan is going nowhere, with the club to begin talks on a multi-year contract extension that could see the in-form halfback remain in Townsville until the end of 2022.
Under the Cowboys' succession plan, the club will structure its salary cap to ensure Morgan is upgraded with a portion of the $1 million salary currently held by Johnathan Thurston, who is tipped to retire at the end of next season.
The Cowboys are not fearful of signing marquee players to long-term deals. In March, they signed Jason Taumalolo to a record 10-year contract and will consider a four-or-five year arrangement for Morgan at $800,000 annually.
The Cowboys would never force Thurston out of the club given his iconic status, but said yesterday Morgan would get the next big payday to call the shots in the post-Thurston era.
"We won't be losing Michael Morgan. He will be our next captain," Cowboys recruitment chief Peter Parr said.
"The reality is we can't afford Johnathan and Michael Morgan under the salary cap (for the 2019 season).
"With our salary-cap situation, we have been succession-planning for some time. Michael Morgan will receive some of the money that we gave to Johnathan and that will also give us the opportunity to upgrade Te Maire Martin (Morgan's five-eighth partner).
"Nothing official has been signed with Michael, but as soon as the salary cap for next year is finalised, we have an agreement with his management that we will start talks.
"I'm not worried about being blown out of the water by other clubs. Michael is a born-and-bred Townsville boy and we have rarely lost a player we want to keep."
Morgan's value has skyrocketed after his second-placed finish in the Dally M Medal on Wednesday night.
In a huge boost for the club, the Test utility said yesterday he would only look elsewhere if he could not strike an upgraded deal with the Cowboys.
"I have no reason to want to leave," he said. "I haven't worried about my future at all but I just felt if I could play well then hopefully I can get a new deal here or somewhere else.
"I love the club. There's no need for me to leave North Queensland. If the club wants me to stay, I'd be more than happy to do a deal soon rather than later."
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