Hunt key to Broncos' premiership push
A month ago Ben Hunt was banished to the ignominy of the Intrust Super Cup but Josh McGuire insists Brisbane's premiership push relies on Hunt being at his best and that his maiden Origin appearance will help to bring that out.
Sitting in third position on the Telstra Premiership table and with the Origin period disappearing in the rearview mirror the Broncos are well poised to repeat their charge to the grand final of two years ago, starting this Friday night against the seventh-placed Eels.
Ever since announcing prior to the start of the season that he would be leaving the club to join the Dragons in 2018 Hunt's form has been under the microscope, a slow start to the year exacerbated by a hamstring injury that kept him out for six weeks.
After two weeks back in the top grade he was sent to play with Ipswich to rediscover some confidence and after his Queensland call-up and reuniting with halves partner Anthony Milford looks to be hitting his peak at just the right time.
He has scored tries in two of his past three games and had two try assists against the Knights, giving teammates such as McGuire cause to believe he is ready to play a prominent role in their run towards September.
"I've played with 'Hunty' since I was 14 so I've always known how good he was," McGuire said.
"It was a compliment for him to come and play Origin. He did his job really well and he's taken that confidence that he got from the Origin arena and brought it back for us.
"He's a vocal guy in the middle for us and he's a guy that if we're going to be there at the end of the year we need him playing his best footy and I really think he's starting to find that form again."
Kodi Nikorima used the absence of Hunt for a six-week period to stake a claim for his No.7 jersey from next season and beyond and the contributions of Benji Marshall either in the halves or off the bench has created a situation where Brisbane have more playmakers than they can now fit in their team.
Captain Darius Boyd returned to training with the squad on Monday and looks set to face the Eels while winger David Mead is also in the frame to come back from a knee injury after completing the session.
Corey Oates was a welcome face as he begins the lengthy process of coming back from a mysterious staph infection that has kept him out for a month already and Hunt believes that the competition for spots has helped put Brisbane in such good position with six weeks of the regular season to play.
"It's a bit of a surprise to be where we are given the injuries and the different things that have happened throughout the year," Hunt admitted.
"It's a real credit to the club to show the depth that we've got. We're in a pretty good position.
"[The depth] has kept everybody on their toes. It just shows that if you're not playing good enough football that there is somebody else ready to take your spot and jump straight in there.
"Everyone's in their best form and have to be playing well [to get picked]."
Signed to the Broncos as a teenager from Blackwater Hunt is in his ninth and final season at Red Hill and has rarely seen the side in such a strong position coming out of the Origin period.
When they made the grand final in 2015 Brisbane were on top of the table through 20 rounds with 34 competition points and Hunt can see a number of similarities with how the 2017 squad is placed at this stage of the season.
"Right from the start of the year I knew we had a good side and if we could get off to a good start and hold it through the Origin period – which we have – that we'd be in pretty good shape," said Hunt, who will play his 178th game for the Broncos on Friday night.
"We've managed to do that, we just need to stay healthy and keep a good side together for the finals.
"We had a pretty good run through [the Origin period] that year (2015) as well with a lot of players out. I think we were coming around the same spot so if we can keep a healthy side now and get some combinations together and push for the finals we'll be right."