With the Maroons clinging onto a six-point lead in the final 10 minutes of the State of Origin opener, Brad Fittler’s Blues were throwing the kitchen sink at their opponents.
The 80,000-strong crowd inside Accor Stadium was repeatedly chanting “New South Wales” and the Blues were making regular forays into the Maroons’ half of the ground.
In the 74th minute, Blues debutant Stephen Crichton, who has scored tries for fun over the last two seasons in Panthers colours, attempted to sidestep Cameron Munster on his way towards the try line.
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The only problem was, Munster, an Origin veteran now in his sixth campaign, was one step ahead and stripped the ball out of the 21-year-old’s grasp, giving possession back to the Maroons.
It was aa big-time play from a big-time player, and left those who were more than accused to their own clutch plays stunned.
“There’s 90,000 people in the stadium, only one person would be thinking that,” Blues icon Andrew Johns exclaimed on Nine’s coverage.
“When you’re 10 meters out from your line under pressure, who would even think about doing that? That’s a superstar. What a player.”
Munster’s former representative and club captain, Cameron Smith, was equally stounded.
“These big plays here, he’s 12 meters out from the Queensland tryline, who’s thinking of doing that?” he said.
“I know Stephen Crichton wasn’t, he wasn’t expecting Cameron Munster to strip the ball. When he has the ball in his hand he just mesmerises defenders.”
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Munster finished the match with 19 runs, 188 meters gained and eight tackle breaks, and was named man of the match, earning comparisons to the great Wally Lewis in the process for his iconic Origin I performance.
“He’s getting closer to (Lewis) with the way he’s playing,” Maroons icon Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin told Nine.
“He’s an instinctive player, as Wally Lewis was. Wally wasn’t structured by any imagination, but he was instinctive, and so is Cameron Munster.
“He and Kalyn Ponga, when they do what they do, that’s when good things happen for Queensland.”
Munster, much like his teammates, was left gasping for air in the moments after the final whistle, having strained every sinew to take a 1-0 lead to Perth for game two.
“It’ll go down as one of the hardest games I’ve ever played,” he told Nine’s post game panel.
“No penalties in the first and not many in the second half and it shows in the way I’m talking, I’m still trying to catch my breath.
“That’s the best thing about Origin, just how fast the game is.”
Part of Munster’s brilliance comes through his ability to combine ad-lib football with structured, disciplined play, allowing him to run through an opposing defense at any given moment. The ability to combine both is a trait he’s acquired over time, according to Smith.
“It’s an element of his game he’s improved on over the last couple of years, where he’s put some structure around (his game),” the Storm icon said.
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“He’s always at his most dangerous when he plays off the cuff. He just gets the ball, has a look up, and if he sees an opportunity or an avenue to run the ball, he runs it.
“He’s got that knack of holding the ball out with two hands, he shows over, he shows under, he shows back inside to support and the defenders just ball-watch.
“I think that’s a part of his game that he’s improved on a lot over the last couple of years, particularly in my last season in 2020 he went to another level. He’s matured so much, he’s had a big off-season and he’s getting the rewards for it right now.”
Having played a heroic role in the Maroons’ unlikely 2020 triumph, Munster already has a Wally Lewis Medal in his possession. Keep this up and he’ll be trotting off Suncorp Stadium following game three with his second.
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