Cameron Munster has put himself in strong contention to inherit Johnathan Thurston’s five-eighth spot for Australia at this year’s World Cup, quite possibly amid an all-Melbourne spine.
The 22-year-old’s starring effort on debut for Queensland in their State of Origin III win has Thurston, the man he replaced, tipping a big future for him with the Maroons.
But it also puts him right in contention for the same role with the Kangaroos, with Thurston headed into representative football retirement after shoulder surgery ended his season.
In Munster’s favour is his Melbourne club combination with Australian skipper Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater after they formed the Queensland spine that terrorised NSW on Wednesday night.
The ladder-leading Storm are now hot favourites to take out the NRL minor premiership and the grand final.
And success there could make an irresistible case for Munster and Slater to join Smith and Cronk in Mal Meninga’s Kangaroos for the home World Cup.
NSW halfback James Maloney has been Thurston’s accepted Australian team understudy, having played back-up at last year’s Four Nations after guiding Cronulla to the 2016 NRL title.
With Cronulla sitting second on the ladder, it makes for a fascinating form battle between Munster and Maloney over the NRL season’s final rounds.
Munster’s Queensland selection ahead of in-form Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans ruffled feathers but it proved a masterstroke, as Thurston observed on Thursday.
“Obviously the spine was instrumental in winning the game last night, the Melbourne spine, we got that right last night,” Thurston said.
“Cameron, he’s got a big future, especially in the maroon jersey.”
Asked about Munster’s Kangaroos prospects, a diplomatic Thurston said: “You’ll have to ask Mal about that.”
Two other Queensland stars who applied plenty of pressure for a Kangaroos World Cup call up were fullback Slater and winger Dane Gagai.
Queensland captain Smith said wasn’t surprised by Munster’s stellar Origin debut.
“They found it hard to contain him and I knew he had that in him,” Smith said.