Former Queensland halfback Scott Prince says Ben Hunt is more suited to playing a role as second hooker off the bench for the Maroons and could make that position his own after failing to show in the first two games he has the game management as halfback.
Prince says it can’t be overlooked that whoever replaced Cooper Cronk in the Maroons’ No. 7 jersey was on a hiding to nothing and as it is the toughest task in the game to come to grips with the extra pressure and intensity of being an Origin playmaker.
While he says Daly Cherry Evans deserved his recall for Wednesday’s clash and is ready for the challenge, he’d start afresh with Titans halfback Ash Taylor, if he is in form, next year and guarantee him the spot for all three games.
Prince, then at Wests Tigers, made his debut in game one of 2004 with Chris Flannery before skipper Darren Lockyer moved to five-eighth for the first time and was his partner for the next two games in the series lost 2-1 to the Blues.
He did not represent Queensland again until 2008 when a Titan, as Johnathon Thurston had secured the position. He was called in to partner Thurston for the last two games of the series while Lockyer was sidelined with a serious knee injury.
"Whoever came in this year with no Johnathan Thurston or Cameron Smith, replacing Cooper Cronk, was on a hiding to nothing," Prince said.
"They’d been the mainstay of the team for so long. Ben Hunt got the head start in first two games but unfortunately he wasn’t able to put the icing on the cake at crucial times.
"You need your key men, and the halfback position is one of those, to do that. He’d be disappointed with that but and Kevvie [Walters] and the selectors had to act and say ‘maybe you’re not right for that particular job’.
"I think his best position at that level is hooker. It gives Macca [Andrew McCullough] a chance to have a rest; he makes 50-60 tackles regularly so he’s going to lose something with his attack. Ben can come in and complement the team in that aspect and be a real danger.
"The way he is playing at club level, he has to be in the 17."
Prince said Hunt’s running game was his best asset and he is a tough defender, yet he lacks the kicking and man management skills of the other two.
On Cherry-Evans, he believes he has the best all-round halfback’s repertoire in a running, kicking and passing game.
As for Taylor, the 2005 premiership winner is adamant the Titans playmaker has the best kicking and short passing game, yet is not as strong defensively and should run more.
"Credit to Kevvie and the selectors who didn’t put a line through DCE, he has matured as a player but it is hard to perform when you’re not regularly playing in that crucial role at Origin level," Prince said.
"He’s 29, Ben Hunt is 28 and Ash Taylor is 23 so you have to start thinking ‘who is the player to keep the position long term?’ Origin is so different to club level, especially for a halfback.
"When you’re a half and you’re in the game with plenty going on, you have to slow down for a moment, take a deep breath, extract yourself from the frantic stuff that’s happening around you and think ‘what does my team need right now?’
"Where they need you is in the back end of the halves and the fifth-play options – where and who to kick to so we can get another set or defend from a good position at the start of their set.
"It’s like chipping away at a wall, it mightn’t crack the first time but if you keep going it will. But cracks are harder to find in Origin, and you have you get the most out of them when they appear."