As the Maroons clung to a six-point lead in the final 10 minutes of the State of Origin opener, Brad Fittler’s Blues threw the kitchen sink at their opponents.
The crowd of 80,000 inside the Accor stadium repeatedly chanted “New South Wales” and the Blues made regular inroads into the Maroons’ half.
In the 74th minute, Blues debutant Stephen Crichton, who has scored tries for fun the past two seasons for the Panthers, tried to dodge Cameron Munster on his way to the try line.
HOW IT HAPPENED: Maroons Hold Back Late Wave of Blues in Origin I
PLAYER EVALUATIONS: Blues rookies brutally exposed
READ MORE: The heroic Maroons rock the Blues in a last-second thriller
READ MORE: HIA’s call for wobbly Blues star baffles the greats
The only problem was Munster, an Origin veteran in his sixth campaign, had a head start and snatched the ball from the 21-year-old’s hand, restoring possession to the Maroons.
It was a great game from a great player and left those more than used to their own clutch games stunned.
“There are 90,000 people in the stadium, only one person would think that,” exclaimed Blues icon Andrew Johns while covering Nine.
“When you’re 10 yards from your line under pressure, who would even think of doing that? He’s a superstar. What a player.”
Former Munster representative and club captain Cameron Smith was equally stunned.
“These big plays here, he’s 12 yards from the Queensland try line, who thinks he’s doing that?” he said.
“I know Stephen Crichton wasn’t, he didn’t expect Cameron Munster to take the ball away. When he has the ball in his hand he hypnotizes defenders.”
Munster’s invaluable reaction to Origin I honor
Munster finished the match with 19 carries, 188 yards 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 plays,” Maroons icon Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin told Nine.
“He’s an instinctive player, like Wally Lewis was. Wally wasn’t structured by any imagination, but he was instinctive, just like Cameron Munster.
“He and Kalyn Ponga, when they do what they do, that’s when good things happen for Queensland.”
Munster, like his team-mates, was breathless in the moments after the final whistle, having strained every sinew to take a 1-0 lead at Perth in Game 2.
“It will go down as one of the toughest games I’ve ever played,” he told Nine’s post-match panel.
“No penalties in the first and not many in the second half and it shows in the way I speak, I always try to catch my breath.
“That’s the best thing about Origin, how fast the game is.”
Part of Munster’s brilliance comes from his ability to combine ad-lib football with structured, disciplined play, allowing him to cut through an opposition defense at all times. The ability to combine the two is a trait he acquired over time, according to Smith.
“It’s an element of his game that he’s improved on over the last two years, where he’s structured (his game),” the Storm icon said.
State of Origin 2022 Highlights: NSW v QLD – Game I
“He’s always the most dangerous when he’s playing the backhand. He just gets the ball, looks up and if he sees an opportunity or an avenue to run the ball, he throws it.
“He has a knack for holding the ball with both hands, he shows over, he shows under, he shows inside to support and the defenders just watch the ball.
“I think that’s a part of his game that he’s improved a lot on the last couple of years, especially in my last season in 2020, he’s gone to another level. He’s matured so much, he had a big off-season and he’s getting the rewards for that right now.”
Having played a heroic role in the Maroons’ unlikely triumph in 2020, Munster already has a Wally Lewis Medal in his possession. Keep it up and he’ll come out of Suncorp Stadium after Game 3 with his second.
For a daily dose of the best news and exclusive content from Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here!
State of Origin I 2022 in pictures: All the color of the Blues v Maroons opener