Lui v Hunt rivalry a long time in the making
Saturday's derby north of the border will bring things full circle for two opposing young halves who have been facing off since before they learned 'cooties' weren't real and girl germs weren't all that bad.
Their playing days go back to the first year of high school when Robert Lui and Ben Hunt would annually go into battle in the stripes of northern and central regions respectively at the Queensland State Titles. They would also join forces to play as teammates in various Queensland sides through the years at Australian Secondary Schools Championships.
The only halves battle most pundits and fans alike are coming for is Hunt versus Cowboys superstar Johnathan Thurston, but perhaps the more poetic and sustained rivalry will be fought out between the two 24-year-old mates who grew up playing in each other's pockets.
While Hunt's quick rise to stardom has been a surprise to many people, Lui has given his opposite a glowing review, saying he had seen it coming all along.
"Hunty is a great player. He's come leaps and bounds this year, but he's always had that," Lui told NRL.com.
"I remember playing juniors with Hunty. Back then Hunty was a good fella, really laid back. Yeppoon people are laid back just like us here up in Townsville.
"We always played against him because I was North Queensland, he was at Central. But I played against him at School, he went to Yepoon. We played for Queensland together and went to AIS together, so we know Hunty very well, but he's always been the same player he is to what he is now."
Asked why he thought Hunt was only now entering superstar status after his debut back in 2009, Lui simply said this year had been his first real chance to prove himself at the top grade.
"He's been going so well because it's his first real chance (playing in the halves). That's what I think, and he's taken the opportunity," Lui said.
Both players possess effective running games, but their similarities have stemmed from rather different origins on the footy field. Hunt had always grown up in the halves, whereas Lui plied his trade in the centres and at fullback before the new wave of playmaking custodian made its mark.
"It's funny how things work out like that. It has actually probably helped me with parts of my game in the halves," he said.
"But Benny, he's been going real good and he has the talent to hurt us. He's always been solid and he's always been strong, a strong runner of the ball, so we're going to have to shut him down this week, but then you also got Benny Barba because, you know, Dally M."
Whenever these two would collide in state competition, the feeling was more catch-up session than football tournament. In fact, the group was bigger than just two, says Lui.
"The boys. Yeah, Ray, myself, Morgo's (Michael Morgan) older brother Ben Morgan, we were all playing together, same with (Daniel) Vidot; Vidot was the same year as us. Good mates, we still have a chat from the young days.
"We wouldn't chat (over the internet) or anything like that back then, but we would hang out when we went away to footy camps, we'd get together then."
"But when it comes down to NRL now, it's a bit more serious, so yeah you could say there are bragging rights (at stake) on Saturday."