As he sat on the bench when Kalyn Ponga kicked the 2019 State of Origin series off, Cameron Murray had to not play the game in his head.
Given he’d worked for the better part of two decades to earn a NSW Blues jersey and was playing in front of a hostile Queensland crowd, he had every right to be nervous.
After 10 days of intense build-up and media hype, Murray – like every player – just wanted to rip in. However, he had to patiently wait on the bench for 30 minutes to get his chance.
“I thought I did a pretty good job of not getting too excited and not playing the game in my head beforehand, so I was ready when I came on,” Murray said to NSWRL.com.au.
“I wasn’t too nervous; I’m proud of how I went in regard to my fitness and conditioning. so I was happy in that respect.
“By the time the week was over I was ready to play.
“I won’t say I was sick of all the media and all the hype around it, but I was definitely ready to put one foot in front of the other and put the jersey on and actually get out there and do what I got picked for instead of all the hype around it.”
Being thrown into the beast of Origin hype can be difficult for young players, particularly when most of the team is fairly fresh.
Luckily, Murray – along with the four debutants – could rely on the 81 games of Origin experience in the coaching staff of Brad Fittler, Andrew Johns, Danny Buderus and Greg Alexander.
“It was hard to stay focused I guess, it’s something that I’m going to have to get used to,” Murray said.
“The boys really helped me out, the coaching staff and all the experienced boys around me really helped me out along the way, kept me grounded and kept me focused.
“It was just unfortunate there was a few crucial moments there where we turned the game so hopefully I’m there for game two, hopefully we can look at where we went wrong and go one better.”
Murray looks to have a bright Origin career ahead of him and he showed why he was picked with a more than solid debut off the bench, which included a try assist to fellow middle forward Jake Trbojevic.
He’s obviously proud of his achievement to don the sky-blue jersey that he’s forever dreamed of doing, but couldn’t hide his disappointment of the end result.
“It was bittersweet,” Murray said.
“I was really excited to make my debut, but it would have been a lot better if we got the win.
“I learned a lot and really enjoyed the week with the boys and experience Origin footy, but it was a shame we didn’t get the result so hopefully I’m there for game two and can improve where I went wrong.”
When interviewed after the defeat, Murray says on more than one occasion that he wants to do the job for the players around him.
It’s a reflection of the camp Brad Fittler runs, with the attitude of ‘we before me’.
Last night was a taste of what Origin is all about. Going into battle with your teammates and coming up against a strong opposition, a taste any footballer craves.
“There were moments there that obviously stood out and you could tell that that only happens in Origin,” Murray said.
“There was a set there where Queensland were flying off their line putting on shots pretty much every tackle and we had to take our medicine there and do our best to gain a little bit of momentum and field position and kick the ball down and I guess that’s what Origin is all about.
“It all happened pretty fast a bit blurry and stuff like that now but thinking about it, it was such a big game and such a great atmosphere, and a lot of emotions were running high so it’s hard to remember.
“I was happy, I was proud, and I just wanted to do a job for the boys around me and I wanted to prove to myself, prove to everyone watching that I’m ready for this level.”
If statistics could talk, they’d say Murray is certainly ready for this level.
He played 51 minutes and ran for 112 metres with five tackle breaks, the most of any forward on the field from either team.
He also made 27 tackles and set up a try.