July 2022

Cameron Munster is Different Gravy

Cameron Munster is the wild thing of the NRL. As the talisman of the Melbourne Storm and Queensland, he's unique among his contemporaries.

Enigma, definition: A person or thing that is mysterious or difficult to understand.

That is certainly how Cameron Munster must have felt to the New South Wales Blues in game one of the 2022 State of Origin series.

He doesn’t fit squarely into any definition of a playmaker, nor does he have a signature step, pass, run or move that defenders can’t handle.

He’s a tornado ripping around the field, probing for weakness then bursting through.

Who do you compare him to? Based on natural instinct, you could make an argument for Brett Kenny. 

But Kenny didn’t wrestle out of tackles with pure strength, he glided through defences, swerved fullbacks and sold dummies.

Jonathan Thurston? He could run the ball with the best of them and control a game. But he had a trademark show and go. He’d throw it in the fifth minute as readily as the 79th, constantly testing a side’s right edge defence.

But Munster doesn’t do that.

Benji Marshall had it all. The side step, the goose step, the flick pass and the cut out ball. 

But Munster is a little more understated than that.

Darren Lockyer had the drift across the line before he accelerated into a gap.

But Munster is more physical.

Sure, there are probably kids in Queensland who try to emulate him, but there is no attacking trademark.

He sort of drifts across the field, probing the defence, challenging a defender to break from his teammates and chase him, then a quick shuffle of the feet, a strong fend, a slight dummy, and boom, he’s through the gap.

It’s almost as if he saunters his way through a defensive line.

Among his contemporaries he’s different.


Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans possess a very deliberate show and go, Nathan Cleary likes to change his running speed to fool defenders, Mitchell Moses threatens with his acceleration while Luke Keary likes to raid a short side and send a teammate through a gap.

Munster is the Shaun Tait of rugby league. The wild thing. But instead of 160 kilometre an hour thunderbolts being slung by a mad man, it’s a bubbling ball of energy pushing through bigger men whose legs are caught in concrete when he runs the ball.

And even then, he’s not like a Brian To’o who seemingly bounces off tacklers and keeps moving like some rugby league version of Juggernaut.

No, he seems to just push into defenders and then disappear from their clutches.

“I don’t know what I’m doing but … I don’t think the defence does (either). It’s a nice trait to have,” he said after Origin one.

How do you defend against that?

Professional sport loves plans. It loves stats, trends and anything it thinks will give it the edge over an opponent.

You hear coaches talk about defending channels, dominating the ruck, watching for a key opponent’s trademark play.

But Munster isn’t the type of player you can defend like that. He doesn’t seemingly play in channels or use a particular attacking shape.

He likes to roam the left edge but don’t think he’s nailed on there.

He’s effectively a fullback popping up where he feels he can do the most damage.

And it makes sense given he spent his first two seasons of first grade at fullback replacing the injured Billy Slater of all players.

Where Slater was all about support play, playing as a third ball player and appearing wherever Cameron Smith or Cooper Cronk needed him, Munster is a different animal.

There’s a moment in game one of 2022 where he collects the ball in the middle, throws an extravagant dummy to the right edge where there is literally no one prepared to take a pass, then he skips to his left, uses his hips to break two attempted tackles before accelerating through a gap and it’s only the Blues cover defence that prevents him from finding Kalyn Ponga back on the inside to score.

It’s chaos. Pure, unadulterated chaos, and that is where Munster is at his best.

He likes bringing the chaos, thinking of ways to upset an opposition’s rhythm. Where his former teammate Cooper Cronk would flip the field with a big kick, or kick early to turn the opposition forwards around, Munster decides to inflict damage when he doesn’t have the ball.

He steals the ball. He’s the best one-on-one strip exponent in the game. And he does it when no one is expecting it.

Forward targeting him on an edge? Time for a strip. Opposition kick return? Time for a strip. Opposition on a roll up field? Oh, you better believe that’s a strip.

Surely the tip sheet on Munster says “One-on-one strip”, and yet players constantly get burnt by him.

Kind of like how Dean Widders could shred a defence with his dummy and right foot step despite it being known throughout the league. You know it’s coming, you just can’t stop it.

And in the crucible of Origin, where he often plays his best, when the fatigue is high, knees weak, arms are heavy, he terrorises the Blues.

In 2020, Queensland were battered and bruised, staring down three consecutive series defeats after an incredibly long season.

Munster arrived into camp late seemingly still on his premiership winning bender, then won the Wally Lewis medal. 

His game three highlight reel was pure Munster. 

Chaotic, energetic, unbridled rugba leeg.

One passage of play sees him bounce out of a tackle on the left edge, grubber in behind, beat Josh Addo-Carr to the ball, gather and kick again only for Kurt Capewell to be dragged down a metre short. Next play, gets the ball, looks to his right edge, kicks again and Queensland score.

How do you defend against a player who decides to grubber for himself on half way on the last tackle?

He has the air of a guy just mucking around, playing some A-grade football with his mates and then sinking a few schooners in the pub after. Although for Munster that’d probably be a Coke these days.

His current mop of bleached blonde hair is courtesy of a playing group punishment at Melbourne. And in a competition where players grow mullets and manes, have terrible fades, or look like they’ve taped a sheep’s fleece to their head, Munster’s hair rarely stands out.

He wouldn’t look out of place down the local or on a building site. He looks fit but not Ryan Matterson jacked or Kurt Gidley shredded.

If you’ve played any A-grade or local footy, you’ve probably played with or against a Munster. He’s a larrikin, bounces around at training, he’s loud, gives the coach an earful, is an absolute pest, but when he’s on the field you’d rather he’s on your team.

Because one moment he’s sledging you about how shit your team is playing, and the next he’s nicking the ball off your biggest prop before sprinting 50 metres to score under the posts. Then he’s letting you know all about it on the way back to receive the kick off.

He’s laughing at you out there. After the game, he slings his mostly empty footy bag into the boot of his at least decade old Holden Commodore with AC/DC playing at the highest volume the windows can sustain and roars out of the gravel parking lot.


And yet, he’s one of the most consistent players in the league. Which is kind of at odds with labelling him the Shaun Tait of rugby league given Tait’s propensity to be off target.

Then again I’m not comparing the pair’s consistency, but more their ability to inflict copious amounts of damage in limited time without anyone being able to stop them.

Maybe this version of Munster is therefore late career Mitchell Johnson. Still chaotic, still brutal, but with a bit more control.

Munster’s development as a playmaker also can’t be discounted because it’s what has taken him from the game’s best running five-eighth to one of the game’s best managers.

2021 and 2022 have seen him contribute in excess of 200 kicking metres per game. With the ball in hand he’s just about the deadliest he’s ever been. In 12 club games he’s provided 12 try assists. His season record is 15, set back in 2018 and 2019.

As hard as it may be to believe, he’s become even more involved throughout matches. His 49 touches per game are second only to 2021 and he’s running the most metres per game since his fullback days.

And that improvement has come right when Melbourne has needed it. When Cameron Smith has retired and Ryan Papenhuyzen has only played 24 of 40 games, Munster has looked to fill the void of chief points creator.

It’s an interesting mix to arrive at, especially in a playing system such as Craig Bellamy’s that for so long relied on much more structure. 

Melbourne still execute to a high level, but the man pulling the strings is often one of the most chaotic, at times unstoppable players in the game.

He’s not the metronomic Cooper Cronk, or the ever scheming Cameron Smith who would pick at you until you fell apart.

He’s some kind of Frankenstein’s rugby league monster, capable of rifling a 40/20 just as easily as slipping out of three tackles, slicing through a defensive line and chipping over a fullback.

Enjoy the ride of Cameron Munster.

The wild thing of rugby league.


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1 comment

  1. Hate Melbourne but love watching Munster, except when he’s playing against your team. Great captures the feeling of watching Munster edge of the seat stuff every time he’s involved.

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