'Diamond in the rough': The making of Munster

You can take the boy out of Rockhampton ... but not Rocky out of the boy.

And Cameron Munster's career has had a few rocks along the way that he's had to negotiate.

It is more diamonds these days for the Maroons and Melbourne star as he prepares to take on NSW at Optus Stadium in Perth on Sunday.

After playing a key role in the Game 1 victory, Munster will again be hoping to produce a winning performance in the famous Maroons No.6 jersey.

The "making of a Munster" has been a journey and a half for the 24-year-old larrikin.

The pivotal moment

While a frustrated fullback for most of his career, Munster's progress to one of the best playmakers in the NRL started in Rockhampton with a moment of self-doubt.

Robbie Lorraway coached Munster at Emmaus College in the under 14s and then at Norths Knights in under 15s, 16s and 18s.

"Cameron is a diamond in the rough. He has a sparkle that sometimes gets clouded but when he plays to his ability and with confidence he sparkles like the sun," Lorraway told NRL.com as he summed up his former protege better than most.

Then Lorraway told a story about Munster’s first foray into five-eighth play.

"He was only a jockey size so I played him hooker in under 14s but one thing I noticed about Cameron was that he always had a ball in his hands. He'd be bouncing it, throwing it over his shoulder and swinging it through his legs … always doing something with it," Lorraway said.

"In under 15s I was looking for a five-eighth but he didn't want to play there because his teammate at school, Luke Guinane, was the star of the show and playing for Brothers. Cameron didn't think he was good enough to play against him.

"One game against Brothers he was stuffing around. I pulled him off and he said 'I'm not good enough to play five-eighth'. I told him 'I believe in you. I know you can do this'.

"By the end of the season we had beaten Brothers to get into the grand final and Cameron played all over Guinane. That is when I realised he was going to be something. He always tackled low because he was a jockey but as he got bigger his defence just got better and better."

When NRL.com told Munster of Lorraway's story while in camp with the Maroons in Perth his eyes lit up as he reflected on a pivotal moment in his career.

"Luke [Guinane] was signed to the Broncos at the age of 13 and was the talk of the town. I didn't think I was confident enough or good enough to play against him in the same position. Now, I fear no-one, so it was pleasing to overcome that hurdle," Munster said.

Cameron Munster at Maroons training in Perth.
Cameron Munster at Maroons training in Perth. ©NRL Photos

"I’m very thankful to Robbie for giving me that opportunity to play at six. I didn't think much of it at the time. I loved to play fullback and run the ball and I didn't think I was developed enough to play in that playmaker position but he had the confidence in me to play there.

"I really enjoy having the ball in my hands a lot more now.

"Back in high school I wasn't big. It was mentally tough for me. I used to play with Corey Oates and he was probably the same size back then as he is now. I was that short and little I used to get bashed around, but I grew a couple of inches in Grade 11 and Grade 12 and it gave me confidence to handle all occasions. It made me toughen up. It shows now where I can hold my own."

Match: Maroons v Blues

Game 2 -

Full Time
Maroons

Home Team

Maroons

Scored 6 points
Blues

Away Team

Blues

Scored 38 points

Venue: Optus Stadium

Match broadcasters:

  • Nine Network

'Bashed up' by his little sister

Munster inspired his Norths side to a premiership in 16s and Lorraway said he was "the best five-eighth in Rocky but still not getting picked in representative teams".

It was the early story of Munster's career.

"In the 18s he was untouchable and we won the grand final 32-nil. That's when Cameron ended up making the Capras 18s in rep footy," Lorraway said.

Munster's toughness and his extraordinary palm were all on show at the time. He credits his younger sister Danielle for teaching him to never be intimidated by anyone.

"To be completely honest she was probably a better footy player and touch player than me at the time," Munster grinned.

"She threw a better ball than me. It was good to have her beside me and made me toughen up. She used to bash me when I was a kid. She was younger than me too.

"I played with my cousin in the backyard at home and he is about 10 years older than me, so every time I played footy against him I'd try and stay away from him, so the palm is something I put in my repertoire. I hated getting tackled so had to find a way to evade players. It came naturally and I am lucky I have that fend so I can get away from people to this day."

Get smart or get expelled

Playing into the Munster story in the background was his cheeky ways. That is where Darryl Horstman, his schoolmaster at Emmaus College, sensed a kindred spirit.

"When I was younger I was a bit of a ratbag as well so I could relate back to the kid," Horstman recalled.

"Cameron just loved life and was a bit of a larrikin. Some of the teachers didn't like it too much and he put a few people offside with his boyish nature.

"We'd have regular chats about how he was doing and where he was going and how he had to involve himself more in school, because he just loved playing sports. He just had to get rid of that little bit of rubbish in him.

“You'd never take Cameron's high spirits away from him and at Emmaus I always encouraged him to keep what he'd got, but to learn to work in with other people.

"He has changed his ways and Craig Bellamy has done tremendously well with him. I am so glad he went to Melbourne. Bellamy has brought out the best in him."

Munster said Horstman's advice saved him from himself and from being expelled.

Cameron Munster at Maroons training in Perth.
Cameron Munster at Maroons training in Perth. ©NRL Photos

"I remember Darryl said to me 'if you keep going the way you are going you probably won't be at school, or not at this school anyway'. I pulled my head in," Munster said.

"I was a bit of a ratbag and didn't really like school. I never really listened. Emmaus was a school known for sport in Rockhampton and that is why I went there."

There were occasions where Horstman had to go into bat for Munster with his coaches as well. On one occasion he was not selected in the Emmaus first team and Horstman intervened to ensure he was.

Waiting for big NRL break

NRL clubs also had blinkers on when it came to Munster.

"I had a bit to do with the Cowboys and we invited Cameron along to a couple of their academy clinics," Horstman recalled.

"The Queensland rep half at the time was Cooper Bambling and he was touted as the next Johnathan Thurston, and Munster took the ball in one of the drills and went step, step, step and through Bambling and the whole lot and made them all look second rate.

Cameron Munster in action for the Central Queensland Capras.
Cameron Munster in action for the Central Queensland Capras. ©Supplied

"Someone said 'you can't do that' and Cameron just turned around and laughed. I was a bit dirty that the Cowboys never looked at him."

A mate of Horstman's was coach of the CQ Capras 18s side.

"I suggested Cameron and he played 18s Capras and then went on to play under Jason Hetherington in firsts … and the rest is history," Horstman said.

"A lot of people didn’t recognise Cameron's ability but he was always a fighter."

It was while playing for the Capras against Burleigh that Munster scored a try Channel Nine caller Scott Sattler tagged the best individual effort he had seen.

"He was the Capras fullback and Burleigh had a two-on-one after making a big break down the middle ... they were set to score underneath the goal posts until Munster intercepts the ball and runs 80m to score in the opposite corner," Sattler said.

"It was one of those moments when you sit back and say 'I think we are going to be talking about how good this kid is in five, eight or 10 years' time'."

Earrings affect your hearing

It was at the Capras playing under Hetherington that Munster learned plenty of lessons, and was right on the cusp of having his coach's fencing pliers rip into his ear.

"He was a lad and he had real spirit in him, which is what I liked about him. There was no way I was going to try and knock that spirit out," Hetherington, former Maroons and Bulldogs star, chuckled.

"But he famously lobbed up to training with a big sparkly diamond in his ear.

"I said to him 'Cameron, what's that?' He said 'It's an earring, what do you think?' I said 'well we are training and that is going to get in the way when we do defensive work so it's best to pull it out'. He started laughing at me so I said 'well, otherwise I'll go to my ute and get my fencing pliers and pull it out'. He soon pulled it out.

"Then he got this half-done tattoo on his arm and said that he couldn't play on the weekend because he wasn't allowed to get contact on the tattoo. I said, 'well, you’ll be playing'. I added that 'by the looks of that tattoo we need to win too because you'll need the win bonus to finish it off and colour it in'."

Hetherington played Munster at fullback mostly but on occasions at five-eighth.

"Even back then at 19 he was creating opportunities out of nothing," Hetherington said.

Hetherington believes Munster's unshakeable belief is one of his greatest assets.

"You could be at the Gabba watching T20 cricket and Chris Lynn could twist his ankle walking out to bat and say to Munster 'go and get us 60 runs off three overs' and it wouldn’t faze him. He’d believe he could do it," Hetherington said.

Queensland five-eighth meets with fans.
Queensland five-eighth meets with fans. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

Star but staying grounded

Munster doesn’t forget his Rocky mates. When he caught sight of Lorraway after Origin I in Brisbane he raced across to his old mentor in the crowd and took a selfie with him.

Lorraway paid tribute to Munster's parents, Steve and Debbie.

"He comes from a down to earth family, real blue collar. His parents Steve and Deb are lovely people, and Cameron loves his family," Lorraway said.

Munster hasn't forgotten where he came from, that's for sure, even if he now lives a long way from home.

"I still have the country boy in me and that will never leave me but I call Melbourne home now," Munster said.

"I’ve been there six years but I love going back home and seeing Mum and Dad and where I grew up. It keeps me grounded to see old faces and old friends. It puts in perspective that it is a regional town and a tight-knit group."

His old mates thrive on the task of keeping Munster in check.

"When I was coaching Cameron I was that frustrated and angry with the team that I faked a headbutt on the wall. I just hit my head on my hand," Lorraway grinned.

"It was a one-off but Cameron always brings it up. He’ll go 'Oh Robbie, it is just like the day you headbutted the wall'.

"When he comes to town he will have a round of golf with me, Steve [Munster] and Darryl [Horstman]. He can't help hitting you in the nuts while you are having a shot. He just wants to annoy you.

"I love it when he talks to the media and starts forcing himself to say what he is meant to … and then he’ll think 'stuff it, I’ll cut loose now'. You've got to love that about him. Like I always say, he is a real diamond in the rough."