The making of a Rockhampton Munster
STORM star Cameron Munster has won back the faith of the Kangaroos and is set to make his return to the international arena in the famous green and gold No. 6 jersey.
Munster can cement a spot in coach Mal Meninga's 19-man Kangaroos squad by piloting Melbourne into Sunday week's NRL grand final when the Storm clash with Cronulla at AAMI Park on Friday night.
Munster has been one of the NRL's form players this season, and is in the mix for the Dally M Medal after stepping up in the absence of Cooper Cronk, who joined the Roosters this year after 14 seasons in Melbourne.
The 24-year-old Rockhampton rocket made his Test debut for Australia in last year's World Cup after winning the NRL premiership and making a sensational State of Origin debut for Queensland.
But his World Cup campaign was marred by poor off-field behaviour and a punch-up with teammate Ben Hunt in Darwin. It prompted Meninga to send Munster home for a dressing down from Storm coach Craig Bellamy.
Bellamy's spray worked wonders with Munster producing a hot season to retain the Queensland five-eighth duties and bounce into contention to wear Australia's No. 6 jersey in next month's Tests against New Zealand and Tonga.
Meninga will overhaul the Kangaroos following the representative retirements of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston and Cronk while incumbent five-eight Michael Morgan is injured.
Test selector Darren Lockyer told The Courier-Mail the Kangaroos were pleased with Munster's turnaround and would recall him for the trip to New Zealand.
"Mal is more than comfortable with him," he said.
"Being in that environment in Melbourne under Craig and Cameron Smith is good for him.
"They are very good at making sure all the players, particular young ones, are focused on their footy and doing everything they possibly can to give themselves the best chance of playing with the right attitude.
"He's always been a confident kid, but playing his first Origin in Game Three last year and pretty much being man-of-the-match took him to another level.
"They had to pull him back into line in Melbourne a little bit, but that can happen. A kid plays a big game in the Origin arena then you have to put your feet back firmly on the ground.
"Craig did that, they came back and won a premiership. He had a big year last year."
Munster highlighted his excellence with the matchwinning field goal in Melbourne's gripping defeat of South Sydney in week one of the finals.
The play delivered Melbourne a fourth straight home preliminary final, and a win against Cronulla will give the Storm a shot at becoming the first team in NRL history to win back-to-back grand finals.
Munster's NRL career is now 87 games old and he admitted he had to mature after his World Cup shame limited him to only two Test appearances.
"I had to grow up to be completely honest," he said.
"I didn't realise some guys looked up to me until last year when I did some stupid off field stuff that I thought was normal but I didn't realise the consequences for younger guys coming through the system.
"I needed to grow up and show the next guys coming through the culture of the club and not let them think it's OK to be immature off the field.
"Now I am getting older and have to make smarter decisions off the field and I have done that.
"The good thing about the Melbourne Storm is they see the good in me. They like me as a person and what I bring to the club. They supported me through my dramas and that's what I like about the club.
"I made some poor decisions away from the game and I needed to address that. The Storm said to me 'we know you are a good person at heart but you need to be wiser off the field'.
"It's one thing to talk the talk but your actions do the talking. I have a better balance in my life and it's showing in my footy. I'm glad to be in the place I'm in now."
The defection of Cronk to the Roosters could have gone pear-shaped for Melbourne, but Munster's rise this season has ensured the Storm's dominance continued.
Coach Craig Bellamy recently said Munster was a captain-in-waiting at Melbourne and the club will move mountains to keep him at the Storm when his contract expires next year.
Retiring fullback Billy Slater, who will play his last game in Melbourne on Friday, said Munster had evolved into the ultimate player.
"With Cooper Cronk moving on, Cameron Munster has taken on more of a leadership role this year and helped guys like myself and Cam Smith pick up the slack," he said.
"Cam has matured a lot this year. He's a natural footballer but he's as tough as they come. I know he plays in the halves but he would be one of the toughest players on the field every week. He gets bashed a lot but still puts himself in positions where he wants to run the footy.
"The big thing with Cam is he loves the big moments. He's not afraid of pressure situations as we saw in the opening week of the finals with his field goal.
"He's definitely got leadership potential but it (captaincy) may be some time away for him. Cam has some good mentors here and is definitely part of the next generation of players to take this club forward when myself and Cameron Smith has moved on."
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