Hunt's transformation complete
Twelve months after putting himself through a gruelling pre pre-season program Broncos halfback Ben Hunt is set to be rewarded with a first Test cap in Australia's must-win Four Nations clash with England in Melbourne on Sunday.
On the back of their 30-12 defeat at the hands of the Kiwis on Saturday night Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens will name his team to play England on Tuesday afternoon with the uncertainty surrounding five-eighth Daly Cherry-Evans paving the way for Hunt's international debut.
Cherry-Evans suffered a minor muscle hip tear during the first half against the Kiwis and although he will be given every opportunity to prove his fitness, any doubt that he could complete the game would pave the way for Hunt to replace Farah on the bench as cover.
Controversially edged out by Cherry-Evans as the Dally M Halfback of the Year, Hunt's breakout season for Brisbane was built on an opportunity to make the No.7 jersey his own together with a commitment to get his body in the best physical shape possible.
He was a leader throughout much of the pre-season torture sessions at Red Hill and caught the eye of senior players such as Corey Parker upon their return from World Cup duties.
"I've seen him play and I've seen the talent he's got. I knew that was in him. For him to go to that next level he needed to do a few things different and he certainly did that and this year was fantastic," Parker told NRL.com.
"At the end of 2013 'Hook' (former Broncos coach Anthony Griffin) gave him an opportunity and said, 'You're going to play seven' and towards the back-end of last year he played some really good football.
"He had a fantastic off-season. I wasn't a part of it for most of it but by all reports he had a fantastic off-season. When I got back to training, his physique had changed, his demeanour and the way he approached things had changed like we saw this year in the way he played, the talent he's got.
"I get to train and see how talented he is but to see him do it week in week out for the Broncos is great. He got an opportunity to come in to camp with the Queensland side and just being involved with guys like 'Coops' (Cooper Cronk) and 'JT' (Johnathan Thurston), really helped him.
"He finished the year fantastic. He's not a shadow player anymore, he's in the squad and he's here to stay."
Known to enjoy a good time as much as a show-and-go, Hunt went on a self-imposed booze ban for much of the 2014 pre-season campaign and set about putting aside the disappointment of almost five years spent biding his time on the Broncos bench.
"It first really started in my off-season in my time away," Hunt said upon earning selection in the Kangaroos' Four Nations squad. "I put in a lot of work off by myself doing a lot of running and a lot of weights so kept fit for when I came back at the start of pre-season and laid off the drink for a while, changed my diet a bit and just working hard in pre-season put me in good shape.
"I spent a lot of years playing off the bench and had that burning desire to cement a starting spot and to get that at the start of the year felt really good for me and to finish off the year the way I have is definitely a dream come true."
Such has been Hunt's impact on the NRL in his first full season at halfback, England fullback Sam Tomkins expects him to take on a dominant role with regards to Australia's kicking game if he is to partner Cronk in the halves.
"They're all really good kickers of the ball. Cooper Cronk can kick the ball a really long way and as well as that you've got Cameron Smith so it's a bit of a headache if you're a fullback trying to cover three blokes that can kick the ball," said Tomkins.
"If Ben Hunt comes in he gets his foot on the ball quite a lot so I'd expect him to take over the main kicking duties."
Queensland's gamble to play Cherry-Evans in Game Two of the Origin Series despite being limited in how much training he could participate in back-fired and may lead Sheens to adopt a cautious selection policy in such a critical game.
His decision to play an ill Greg Inglis came back to bite the Kangaroos and captain Cameron Smith indicated on Monday that any question mark over Cherry-Evans would potentially be good news for Hunt.
"Even if [Cherry-Evans] was to get up and play I'd dare say Tim would be thinking of a utility spot for Ben given we were left short for a half on the weekend," Smith said.
"This might be Ben Hunt's chance to show everyone what he's got because he's had a great season so far."