Hot Hunt to shunt Morgo from Maroons
FORMER Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt - the maligned playmaker the Broncos released to keep Anthony Milford - is now the frontrunner for the Queensland No.7 jumper.
The Courier-Mail can reveal Hunt has leapfrogged Cowboys sensation Michael Morgan and Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans in the Origin halfback pecking order following his sizzling start at new club the Dragons.
The $6 million man has piloted the unbeaten Dragons to the premiership lead and he has the chance to turn the screws on Morgan and Cherry-Evans by dominating the Rabbitohs tonight at Kogarah's Jubilee Oval.
Maroons hierarchy have been impressed by Hunt's transformation at the Dragons, and he only needs to maintain his form to clinch the coveted Queensland No.7 jumper for Origin I at the MCG on June 6.
On the eve of the new season, Maroons selector Darren Lockyer said Cameron Munster and Morgan had the inside running as Queensland's halves. But Hunt's form burst has changed their thinking.
Morgan missed the opening fortnight with an abdominal strain and has since produced two below-par displays, leaving him in danger of being axed to the Queensland bench.
Hunt made his Origin debut last season off the bench in the Suncorp decider, playing just eight minutes, but Maroons coach Kevin Walters confirmed he has rocketed into the frame to succeed Cooper Cronk.
"Ben has hit the ground running at the Dragons - he's right in the mix for the No.7 jumper," Walters said.
"Hunty has accepted the challenge at his new club really well, he has been outstanding. I am also liking what I've seen from Daly Cherry-Evans, he is playing well at Manly.
"We're going to miss Cooper, we've already seen the impact at the Storm with him leaving (to join the Roosters), and that will flow on to Queensland.
"But life has to go on. Queensland has recovered from Wally Lewis, Allan Langer and Darren Lockyer retiring and at some stage there are good candidates who can slot in for Cooper.
"Ben is one of those guys. He is playing great football. I know I have some halves who can get the job done."
After four games for the Dragons, Hunt has five try assists - three more than Morgan.
At the Broncos, Hunt was pilloried for his erratic kicking game, but he is now ranked second in the NRL for kick metres with 1191, behind only Mitchell Pearce (1530) and ahead of third-placed Cronk (1184).
Morgan, Australia's incumbent No.6, was considered a certainty to start at the Queensland scrumbase after powering the Cowboys to the grand final last season.
But an unexpected abdominal ailment on the eve of the new season has affected his confidence and opened the door for Hunt.
Walters is confident Morgan can hit back, urging him to take on the line in tomorrow's clash against the Warriors in Auckland.
"He just needs to be the Michael Morgan we know," he said.
"We haven't seen the best of him in the opening couple of weeks. He's coming back from injury so I don't expect him to be at his best.
"But the next six weeks is important for 'Morgo'. I'm more than aware of Michael's capabilities and I have every confidence he will get himself right and come back to the form that we need for Queensland."