This article was first written for and published for The Roar.
Today when the Queensland Maroons announce their State of Origin squad, I am expecting them to name Ben Hunt in the number seven jersey.
If I’m Kevin Walters, I wonder what the point is of making drastic changes to the Maroons squad. The final game is a dead-rubber. The squad will want some stability particularly after the potential injury concerns over the weekend to players like Greg Inglis and Dylan Napa.
Also, even if Ben Hunt could be replaced, who would replace him for Game 3? Michael Morgan is still injured and it looks like Kalyn Ponga will be another player unavailable for the Maroons.
Regardless of any potential changes, Game 3 this year matters very little. The Blues have won the series.
Whether Hunt is picked or not, the bigger question for mine is whether he should be selected to wear the number seven jersey for Queensland ever again after his performances in the first two games.
If you listen to many footy fans, the answer is absolutely not. But is this too harsh?
This year’s Origin series was always going to be a challenging one for Queensland. You don’t lose players the calibre of Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith and not feel the impact, not just because of a loss of experience and ability, but also because of a loss of footy smarts.
We saw the direct impact of this in Game 2 when Queensland were the better team for most of the game, but lost because they played stupid football at key moments.
Not only was the loss of these players going to hurt, but I also wonder how much it impacted the way the team was coached. These were once-in-a-generation players, many of whom played together at a club level week in, week out and knew exactly how the others approached their footy.
In previous years, I question how much thought Walters would have had to have put into his game plan or whether it was very much a case of ‘let the boys play’ and play they certainly did.
Whoever was wearing that number seven jersey for Queensland this year was always going to have a big job ahead of them and was going to face massive criticism had the Maroons lost.
Halfbacks are often convenient scapegoats when a team loses. Just ask any Blues fan how they feel about Mitchell Pearce.
Unfortunately for Hunt, Queensland lost and he didn’t play well. And he was roasted for it, both at the end of Game 1 but more so at the conclusion of Game 2.
Hunt has played over 200 NRL games and he is 28 years old. I know this was a tough series to come in to and I know he has been a convenient scapegoat, but for those people (Walters included) who are asking for fans to have patience with him, I query whether a player of his calibre needs more patience.
I also wonder what we saw in Games 1 or 2 that suggest Queensland should be patient with him.
His performance in Game 2 was difficult to watch, particularly because so often play stopped with him.
What was working so well for Queensland in the first 20 minutes of the game was playing the game through the forwards and up the middle, giving Billy Slater the ball and then allowing him to give good early ball down the edges to players like Will Chambers and Dane Gagai.
Particularly with Chambers, despite him not having his best game, just about any time he received the ball on the edge resulted in a break, a try or a disallowed try.
The minute Ponga came on, this stopped happening. Not just because Slater was going into first receiver, but also because Hunt is not a player who likes to give the edge good, early ball. He’s more of a ball running half.
The problem is for this to be effective, Hunt actually needs to run the ball. In Game 2 he ran the ball five times, but from memory only on one of those occasions was a true example of him running the football.
For a 28-year-old halfback, he was also making fundamental errors like kicking early.
While kicking early sounds like a great tactic in theory, for it to be effective a halfback needs to kick the ball to the edges because while the fullback is always in position, the wingers are often not. When Hunt was kicking the ball early, it was finding James Tedesco on the chest and the Blues were starting their sets on the 30-metre line.
I haven’t even mentioned the professional foul that led to the Blues’ penalty try.
Unfortunately for Queensland and its new spine, when the likes of Cameron Munster and Andrew McCullough are playing, they need a big-game half to take control of the game. I question whether Hunt is this half and whether he may be a player who is best suited to club football.
This year, the Blues did something I loved. They picked players based on form and a nucleus of young men that Brad Fittler can use to build a squad around for years to come like Nathan Cleary, Josh Ado-Carr, Latrell Mitchell and Damien Cook.
Perhaps it’s time Queensland followed their lead because I don’t know that affording Hunt the same patience that NSW did to Mitchell Pearce will be an effective strategy in the long term.
Going forward, Hunt is not the man to lead the Maroons.