The future of the Maroons looks bright

Stop holding your breath - the messiah isn’t returning.

Queensland Maroons coach Kevin Walters' announcement in the build up to the opening match of the NRL Magic Round, that Queensland great Cameron Smith wouldn’t be playing State of Origin for the Maroons in 2019, was a welcomed one.

While he’s in incredible form for the Melbourne Storm this season, and it would make for a phenomenal story, Queensland must move on.

It’s time to look to the future and to those players who can steer Queensland through the next decade.

For me, three central Queenslanders come to mind. One is a current Queensland star, the other has been knocking on the door for a few years now, and the third is a player Matty Johns has described as the best player in Australia not playing in the NRL. 

The first is Cameron Munster - he’s on fire.

He put on a clinic in the Melbourne Storm’s 64-10 win over Parramatta Eels on Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium.

Cameron Munster in action against the Eels. Photo: NRL Images
Cameron Munster in action against the Eels. Photo: NRL Images

While his on field feats are remarkable at times, there’s something really ‘normal’ about Munster.

His remarks post-match about how he credited his performance to the fact he ate ‘a bit better this week’ and that he’d avoided alcohol for a few weeks was heart-warming. It’s a reminder that he is just a young bloke who is really talented at his chosen sport. It’s also a reminder of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

I played a few seasons in France from 2011-15; the seasons over there ran during our summer (their winter, unfortunately), so I’d return halfway through the Intrust Super Cup season and join the Central Queensland Capras for the remainder of the season.

I remember my first training session back at the Capras in 2012... there was this young kid bouncing around the place giving cheek to head coach John Harbin and everyone in his way.

It was Cameron Munster.

I’d coached Munster in an under-11s team at Berserker Street State School many years before (and he was a reasonable player then), but I hadn’t seen him in a long time. He wasn’t making junior rep teams, he was just plugging away.

I remember during a drinks break asking my brother Brent, who was playing at the Capras at the time, what Munster was doing at training.

"He’s been killing it in the local A-grade comp for Norths Chargers," Brent said at the time of the 17-year-old Munster.

I thought he must’ve been kidding. Munster? Seriously? Obviously, he wasn’t joking.

Munster ended up playing the final two matches of that season for the Capras before featuring in all 22 matches the year after. He signed with Melbourne Storm later that year and has become one of the sport’s biggest stars.

He just played footy in his own free-flowing kind of way, much like what he’s doing in the NRL today.

He was 17. While so young, he never felt like a 17-year-old in the way he played.

Munster was ‘just playing footy’ in the Intrust Super Cup back then and is doing the same today in the NRL, State of Origin and for Australia. I can’t wait to see him pull on a Maroons jersey in a few weeks’ time.

Had someone told me in 2012 that Munster would one day captain the Maroons, I would’ve told them they were dreaming. Now, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

The fact that he’s eating ‘a bit better’ and living a better lifestyle are only small things, but they’re a reminder that he’s growing into the type of person who could lead the Maroons for the next decade.

Second, I’d love to see North Queensland Cowboys hooker Jake Granville joining him in the Maroons in 2019.

Jake Granville in action for the Cowboys. Photo: NRL Images
Jake Granville in action for the Cowboys. Photo: NRL Images

Granville had his best game of the season in the Cowboys’ 28-14 win over the Gold Coast Titans a fortnight ago. He backed it up with a cracking performance at Suncorp Stadium as part of the NRL’s Magic Round at the weekend.

Injected off the bench midway through the first half against South Sydney Rabbitohs, he sparked the Cowboys to life; his service out of dummy half, combined with his running game, transformed the Cowboys into a better side until he was forced from the field with a head knock.

While it wasn’t enough to earn the Cowboys the win, it was evidence of his value off the interchange bench should Walters give him the nod for Origin I.

I’ve known Jake for a long time, given he’s from Rockhampton and attended St Brendan’s College in Yeppoon. He’s the same age as Brent, so I remember him as a young kid coming through the ranks at St Brendan's as a halfback.

Brent and Jake lived together out at Wynnum for a short period when Brent first joined the Broncos in the NYC program. Jake was a slight kid, but was always at the gym trying to gain size. The house was littered with protein shakers and supplements.

At the time, Jake was struggling to find a spot in the Broncos NYC team and would spend his weekends playing for Wynnum Manly Seagulls in the Brisbane-based Colts competition.

It was a couple years later that current Cowboys coach Paul Green, then coaching the Seagulls' Intrust Super Cup team, moved Granville to fullback in defence and hooker in attack.

It was a master stroke, and probably the reason the Seagulls won consecutive Intrust Super Cup premierships in 2011-12, and Green and Granville are at the Cowboys today. Both were instrumental in the Cowboys' 2015 NRL premiership.

I remember during his final season at the Seagulls, he was in and out of the Broncos team. I was playing at the Capras and he tore us to bits on both occasions in 2013.

I experienced Granville’s electricity out of dummy half and at fullback firsthand in 2013 when he orchestrated a 46-4 carve up in Round 15 and a final 34-18 final round win.

Any opportunity he had to run out of dummy half, he would capitalise on.

He’s slowed down a couple notches since then, however, he could still have that kind of impact off the bench in the high-paced arena which Origin presents.

The final is a player who won’t feature for Queensland this year - he’s a few years off playing for the Maroons - is Sunshine Coast Falcons hooker Harry Grant; he is a star in the making.

Harry Grant in action for the Falcons. Photo: QRL Media
Harry Grant in action for the Falcons. Photo: QRL Media

Linked with Storm, Grant made his first appearance in the NRL last year and has been knocking on the door ever since.

As we all know, the sport’s greatest player in Smith has a firm grip on the Storm’s No.9 jersey at the moment. It’s a blessing in disguise for Grant, as I’m sure he’s learning plenty working alongside Smith. His time will come.

Hailing from Yeppoon, Grant came through the ranks at the Yeppoon Seagulls and attended St Brendan’s College in Yeppoon.

He’s aggressive in defence, a thinker, and dynamic out of dummy half in attack — one of the main reasons the Falcons remain undefeated in 2019.

Grant is leading the Intrust Super Cup Petero Civoniceva Medal race. He’s a genuine competitor and always had an excellent work ethic.

I remember a couple years ago, when I was teaching at St Brendan’s, the entrance to the college was a short stretch of hills which felt like they went on forever; anyway,  First XIII coach Terry Hansen liked to put his players through a crack of dawn hills session early in the pre-season to weed out of the squad those players who weren't willing to push themselves.

In most cases, the players dreaded the session and weren't exactly jumping out of bed to get started. However, Grant, on a brief break from pre-season training at Storm, caught wind of the upcoming session and lobbed up one steamy Tuesday morning for the 6am start.

He wasn’t there to offer encouragement and push the players along from the roadside. Instead, he pushed himself, and led every single hill sprint that day.

In the most recent episode of The Matty Johns Podcast, Johns described Grant as the best footballer in the country not playing in the NRL - it’s a fair wrap from one of league’s most knowledgeable judges. He appears to be a natural leader. It’s a big call, I know, given he’s made one NRL appearance, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Grant captains the Maroons one day.