REED Mahoney has received the ultimate Origin endorsement, with Queensland’s most-capped player Cameron Smith declaring the Eels hooker is ready for a Maroons debut.
If anyone is qualified to assess a hooker’s Origin bona fides, it is Smith, the legendary rake who amassed a record 42 matches for Queensland with an iron-clad grip on the Maroons’ No.9 jumper that spanned almost two decades.
And Smith has no doubt Mahoney would relish a call-up to Camp Maroon after his blistering start to the 2021 campaign that has propelled Parramatta into the top four.
The Queensland team for Origin I will be named this Monday and new Maroons coach Paul Green has a tough decision to make at hooker as Storm rake Harry Grant races the clock with a hamstring injury.
Grant, Queensland’s Origin III hero in his stunning debut last year, has not played for the Storm since their 50-0 flogging of South Sydney on May 6, meaning he would risk going into the State of Origin opener on June 9 without a game in more than a month.
Grant’s frustrating battle has opened the door for Mahoney, who has not missed a game this season, amassing 10 try assists and 10 line-break assists while averaging a whopping 44 tackles per game in the Eels’ blistering early-season start.
Smith believes Mahoney would be the perfect replacement for Grant or even a possible No.14 utility as the Maroons plot back-to-back series defeats of the Blues.
“I didn’t think he was that far away last year,’ Smith said of Mahoney, who has played 67 NRL games since his debut in 2018.
“He’s been playing some wonderful football over the past three years for Parramatta, and he’s a big reason why they’ve been up the top of the ladder and in a position to play finals footy.
“He’s a competitor … it’s an interesting situation given the Origin result last year.”
The 23-year-old Mahoney hails from Nambour and has banked 10 Dally M votes after 11 rounds of the 2021 season, making him the best-performed Queenslander this year.
Former Queensland Origin skipper Smith believes Mahoney’s consistency and toughness is tailor made for the code’s toughest arena.
Mahoney has shown he is not afraid to mix it with the code’s biggest forwards, regularly getting stuck into 100kg-plus rivals like a terrier.
“Right now, given Harry has only played the five games – he didn’t play the start of the year with a knee injury, he’s now off the park with a hamstring injury – and Reed’s played every game this year and playing really well, you’d probably start with Reed,” Smith said.
“Reed is tough. He’s made 60-odd tackles plenty of times in his career. It’s going to take that in the Origin arena.
“He’s got great service from dummy-half, he’s got a pretty good running game and a kicking game as well.
“He’s got all the threats there, then you bring a Harry Grant onto the field just before half-time.
“He can come on, use his silky skills and his craft and try and tear apart the Blues.”
While Green remains hopeful Grant will be fit for Origin I, the same cannot be said for five-eighth sensation Cameron Munster, who remains in grave doubt after failing to run for the past three weeks with an ankle injury.
The Maroons will give Munster every chance but should he be ruled out, Green will consider the likes of Kalyn Ponga, Corey Norman and Ben Hunt to partner skipper Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves for the series opener.