FOR the past month, Cameron Munster has been back on home soil in Queensland.
The coronavirus pandemic has given the Storm and Queensland Origin star a chance to break from NRL training in Melbourne to reconnect with local folk in his hometown Rockhampton.
It has been a grounding experience.
In an NRL industry where players get seduced by discussing $1 million salaries, Rockhampton is a slice of reality for Munster.
The central Queensland bush town is where he got he first job as a teenager, earning $9 an hour working at Rebel Sport.
But the time away has also provided a deeper personal edge for Munster.
He is more acutely aware of the COVID-19 threat than most NRL cohorts because of the fear of what the virus could do to his loved ones.
For the past 30 years, the Munster family have waged an ongoing battle with diabetes.
It began with the Queensland Origin star’s grandfather, who fell into a diabetic coma before Munster was born.
His father Steve was diagnosed with diabetes more than a decade ago, while mum Deborah has her own health battles.
When the NRL competition was suspended last month, it convinced Munster to pack a suitcase and begin the 2400km drive to Queensland – first to visit his partner’s family on the Sunshine Coast, before stopping into hometown Rockhampton to see his folks.
“It was a no-brainer to come back up here with the things going on with my family,” Munster said.
“There was no point sitting at home in Melbourne doing nothing, so it’s a good time to come and see my parents who have some health issues.
“Mum has high blood pressure and Dad has had diabetes for a long time.
“If either one of them was to get coronavirus, they would be in serious trouble.
“Dad has had diabetes for a long time. He’s not the best at looking after himself with it. He’s been told he has a 10 per cent chance of living if he gets sick, so that’s pretty scary for me.
“Mum has had high blood pressure since I was born. Maybe I gave it to her. But she is pretty good always taking her medication.
“Their health situation hits it home for me, and I want to do what I can so that they can live on. I want to make sure they are safe and are following the protocols as well.
“There’s a lot of us out there with older parents and grandparents, so we’re all in the same boat. I just hope we get rid of this virus as soon as we can.”
NRL players regularly cop criticism for their huge pay packets, but Munster is evidence he still plays the game for the right seasons.
There is huge uncertainty over State of Origin this season and whether the game’s showpiece will be played in front of empty stadiums, even if the NRL does successfully relaunch the season on May 28.
If crowds are locked out of Origin, it will be a multimillion-dollar blow for the code and NSW and Queensland players, who are each paid $30,000 per interstate game.
Maroons pivot or fullback Munster would have no hesitation giving up his Origin payments if it means getting the season back on track.
“The pay-cut issue doesn’t bother me one bit,” he said.
“If I get $1000 a month or $10,000 a month, I really don’t care. I just love playing football and the money isn’t what drives me.
“If it means not being paid to play Origin, that’s fine with me. I love wearing that Queensland jumper, and I think of the great players who went before us like Wally Lewis or Allan Langer who didn’t earn anything like what we are lucky to get today.
“As NRL players, we can’t be selfish. There’s a bigger picture to look at.
“I really feel for people in society. There are parents out there with kids who are losing jobs. Some are struggling to put food on the table. I feel so fortunate with my life. I’ve only got a dog to worry about.
“It sucks to see pictures of people lining up at Centrelink to get financial help.
“This is a time that will test our resilience as a country. But all we can do is support local businesses and come out the other side, hopefully with some football to bring some entertainment to people’s lives.”