Dragons fume over Ben Hunt’s Origin demotion
BEN Hunt's St George Illawarra teammates say it was the wrong call for Queensland to drop the halfback to the bench for the State of Origin dead rubber.
Hunt bore the brunt of criticism for the Maroons' series-deciding Game II loss, and Queensland coach Kevin Walters admitted on Monday his team had lacked leadership in the halves as he selected Daly Cherry-Evans as No.7.
But that comment didn't go down well in Wollongong, with Dragons hooker Cameron McInnes coming out in support of his teammate after the pair had helped take the Saints to the top of the NRL ladder this season.
"I think it's the wrong decision," McInnes said.
"They can do what they want, I'm not a Queensland fan. I'm NSW. But I don't think he deserved to be put back to No.14.
"I thought he was their best player in Game I, he kept them in the game. In Game II he probably had a couple of moments he'd like to take back. But that's footy.
"To put him to the bench I don't think he deserves that. But he'll play that No.14 role the best he can and he won't complain and that's the great thing about him."
Hunt's response to stinging criticism last week was telling in his ability to bounce back.
In his only NRL match before the sides for next week's Origin were named, the 28-year-old kickstarted the Dragons' comeback against Parramatta with a deep grubber for Euan Aitken to score.
It was a similar play that had him roasted after Origin II, when he kicked dead with a grubber while NSW were down to 12 men late in the close contest.
"Any media or things out there, he didn't care about that - he just wants to play footy," McInnes said.
"Obviously the magnitude of the game in Origin, it stands out more. But players make mistakes in games, we all do.
"The good thing about him is he's so relaxed and level headed that he comes back and plays well for us."
McInnes wasn't alone in his support.
Last week Dragons coach Paul McGregor said the criticism had been over the top, while centre Tim Lafai also questioned the demotion on Monday.
"I thought he deserved to keep his starting spot and I'm sure the other boys did too," he said.
Meanwhile Walters insisted Hunt still belonged in the Origin arena and claimed the move wasn't made solely off the back of the Sydney loss.
"We know he belongs at this level, he does belong in this Queensland team, it's just a matter of finding his role within the side," Walters said.
"The interchange role is one that can be really effective at this level.
"To blame him for what happened in Game II is absolutely ridiculous, that has never been our stance."