REIGNING Queensland player of the year Ben Hunt admits he is under siege to retain his place in this year’s Origin side in the face of competition from a wave of hungry Maroons hooking aspirants.
Hunt was one of the Maroons’ shining lights in last year’s 2-1 series loss to the Blues, starting in all three games in the No.9 jumper, earning him the prestigious Ron McAuliffe Medal as Queensland’s standout player.
The award put Hunt in elite company.
Since the award’s inception in 1992, some of Queensland’s most iconic individuals have won the gong, including Cameron Smith, Greg Inglis, Darren Lockyer, Shane Webcke, Petero Civoniceva and inaugural recipient Allan Langer.
But, in rugby league, you are only as good as your last game and Hunt is taking nothing for granted as selection heats up for this year’s historic November Origin series.
For 15 years, Cameron Smith owned the Queensland No.9 jumper but in the wake of his representative retirement, the battle for the hooking role is intensifying.
While Queensland coach Kevin Walters is a huge fan of Hunt, he has been impressed with the form of Parramatta young gun Reed Mahoney and Roosters veteran Jake Friend, who was on the verge of a
Maroons debut last year before he suffered injury in lead-up to Game 1.
Then there is the stunning emergence of Smith’s Melbourne understudy Harry Grant, who has been a revelation this season in his 12-month loan stint with the Wests Tigers.
Hunt concedes he cannot afford to be complacent, especially with his Dragons club side unlikely to feature in this year’s finals, which would see him go a month without a game before Origin I on November 4.
“I’m definitely not safe,” Hunt said.
“There’s a lot of competition for the hooking spot this year.
“Jake Friend is back in contention with the Roosters and Harry Grant is playing some great football for the Tigers, as is Reed Mahoney at Parra.
“The reality is I have to play some good football and be consistent if I want to get back in the Queensland side.”
Hunt has become a valued member of Camp Maroon. He has amassed seven Origin matches and been part of three campaigns since his debut off the bench in Queensland’s 22-6 defeat of NSW in Game Three in 2017.
But the Dragons’ struggles at club level this season have triggered turbulence for Hunt. He started the season as St George Illawarra’s main man in the No.7 jumper, only to be axed as halfback following the side’s scratchy start.
Hunt has since been moved to five-eighth, the bench and currently finds himself in the hooking role, where he seems best suited at Origin level.
“It’s been a been a rollercoaster year. We are getting through it as best we can with the COVID stuff … it’s one of those years where you want to put it behind you,” he said.
“It gets pretty frustrating at times, but it’s my own fault.
“I wasn’t playing the best footy I have played, and that’s the reason for the changes. I accepted that I wasn’t playing well, and I understood the coach’s decision and tried to get on with life and playing good footy again.
“In my heart, my favourite position is No.7. But as the weeks go on, I’m thinking maybe it’s not the best spot for me. My heart still lies in playing halfback, that’s what I enjoy most and want to go after. But I don’t know if it’s the spot for me anymore.
“I don’t have doubts that I can play halfback at all. I have been a halfback since I was a kid and I still really believe I can be a great halfback, and that’s what I want to do.
“But I think I have qualities that are suited to hooker as well, and I guess that has helped me get into the Queensland team.”