The ultimate reality check that saved Munster
Reformed Queensland State of Origin star Cameron Munster has opened up about his battle with alcohol and anxiety, and revealed how the fear of being sacked by Melbourne was the wake-up call that has transformed him from party boy to future Maroons captain.
Munster will be one of Queensland's key men in the series opener, but just 18 months ago his career was at a crossroads after an alcohol-fuelled altercation with Maroons teammate Ben Hunt during Australia's 2017 World Cup campaign.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga told Munster to pull his head in or he would never wear green-and-gold again.
Then came the most terrifying meeting of his career, when Munster left the Australian camp to face his club coach Craig Bellamy, who sat him down in his Melbourne office and gave the Maroons five-eighth the ultimate reality check.
Bellamy said he desperately wanted Munster to succeed, but warned him, one more slip-up … and it's over.
"To be honest with you, I was going to get sacked by Melbourne," said Munster, who plays his fifth Origin game this Wednesday night.
"I won't sugar-coat it. At the end of 2017, I was pretty much given the door.
"But Craig Bellamy showed faith in me and said, 'No I like him, I want to keep him,' and he's the main reason why I am still at the Storm.
"I am forever in his debt."
Such was Munster's determination to repay Bellamy, he signed a new four-year $4 million deal last November, rejecting a number of lucrative offers to remain loyal to the Storm club that nursed him through his darkest days.
Munster will never forget hitting rock bottom during Australia's World Cup campaign.
He would wake up to a 9am beer, and was so bored some days he turned to gambling and drinking as he searched for meaning in his life.
But over the past 12 months, Munster has undergone a life-changing reformation.
With the help of Storm psychologist Jacqui Louder, Munster has come to terms with his anxiety and the influence of alcohol on his moods.
While he is viewed as one of Queensland's most relaxed figures, it masks Munster's insecurities.
Despite being one of the elite players in the game, he still asks close mates if he is really good enough to be playing NRL.
A larrikin by nature, Rockhampton-born Munster, 24, still enjoys a drink, but says he has struck the right balance between work and play.
Munster is so highly regarded in the Queensland set-that up he is viewed as a successor to 2019 skipper Daly Cherry-Evans.
"I've kept it nice and quiet with the drink," Munster says.
"I'm not as trusting as I used to be. I have a little group of friends I trust now and I just don't talk willy nilly about everything with everyone.
"It's something I've learnt, you can't trust everyone and that's something I've focused on, is who are my really close friends and family.
"I took a backward step and looked at my life. I changed my ways on everything I have done.
"Being from a country town in Rockhampton, you can get away with a lot more and be a bit of a larrikin and a bit of a silly bugger, but I wasn't aware of my surroundings when I was out and about (in Melbourne).
"My attitude stunk, so that's something I had to clear up."
Munster wonders where he would be without the Storm's professional help.
"Initially, I wasn't really open to talking to a psychologist," he said.
"I didn't really feel comfortable talking to anyone really, but when alcohol was becoming an outlet, I needed to get help.
"I owe everything to Melbourne. It was the main reason why I decided to sign a new deal with them for the next four years."
Once an unashamed bachelor, Munster bought a home last year and is settled with his new partner.
"I have never seen him so settled. I've never known anyone so houseproud. He keeps it spotless," his manager Shaun Pyne said.
"Cameron Munster's turnaround has a lot to do with him, but also the Melbourne Storm.
"The support systems they have put in place for Cam and the psychological help they have provided has been a massive team effort.
"Before his outlet was going to the pub and having a good time with his mates living in their flat together.
"Now he lives in his home and it's made him grow up and take some responsibility.
"Cam comes across as a relaxed, easygoing guy, but he does get anxious and he does worry. Jacqui at the Storm has been amazing in helping Cam with his anxiety and how alcohol can affect his moods.
"I've always believed in this game that happy people are happy footballers.
"Craig Bellamy has been incredible for Cam. He has a soft spot for Cam but he doesn't tolerate dickheads.
"When Cameron signed his new deal, I said, 'Mate, you have to have a million-dollar diet, a million-dollar preparation and a million-dollar attitude.'
"He's now one of the game's highest-paid players, so he needs to play and act accordingly.
"The penny has dropped for Cam."