Ben Hunt says being awarded the Ron McAuliffe Medal as the Maroons players' player of the 2019 State of Origin series is "very special" and has given him a huge lift for the rest of the year.
The Queensland hooker was only notified of the award in the last week by coach Kevin Walters. The Maroons were going to make the presentation of the prestigious medal to Hunt at a pre-season camp in February but he was ill and did not attend. Then the COVID-19 shutdown complicated the timing further with the 2020 series delayed until November.
Walters also called Storm star Cameron Munster to inform him that he was the winner of the FOGS Peter Jackson Memorial Award, which each year goes to the person who makes the greatest contribution to the Maroons squad. It can be a player or one of the support staff and recognises what the Queensland spirit is all about, as epitomised by the late Peter Jackson who played 16 games for the Maroons.
For Hunt the phone call from Walters was a tribute to the way he embraced a great challenge in playing all three games in his second favourite position. The St George/Illawarra playmaker played every minute of the 2019 series and made 137 tackles where his grit and courage came to the fore.
Hunt had played in the halves in the opening two games of the 2018 series but made the transition to starting hooker with class. It was a show of faith by coach Kevin Walters, a mentor who has always got the best out of the 30-year-old.
"It definitely gave me a big lift when Kevvie rang to tell me I had won the medal and I felt very privileged," Hunt told NRL.com
"To get a players' player medal for Queensland is something I feel is very special because it is voted on by your teammates.
"Going back to my Broncos days I always felt I worked really well with Kevvie because he had that belief in me, and it is the same with Queensland.
“He always told me that he would back me and support however I play.
"I had played the hooker position a fair bit in my career but I knew my work rate and efforts had to be a lot higher. I knew that if I did my job and controlled the ruck that everyone else would do theirs.
"I am confident of doing the job again and looking forward to it when Origin rolls around at the end of the year. I will be really keen to rip in wherever I am in that side."
Walters said Hunt's award was well earned.
"To be playing halfback and then come into the nine jumper, we weren't sure how long he was going to last through the game in the middle," Walters said.
"But to his credit, he knocked out three full games and I could see by the end of the series that he was gone... body and mind.
"He threw everything into it and I'm very pleased he won the Ron McAuliffe Medal because he was certainly in our top two or three players in every game.
"He really did [rise to the occasion], particularly that tackle he did on Payne Haas here in Game I, where he's giving away about 40kgs, and he just threw himself at him, which is what he did continuously for the three games."
That shot on Haas epitomised the mindset that Hunt had throughout the series.
"My teammates put a couple of shots on in that set and I just felt like it was my turn. It was a slow play-the-ball so I flew out and caught him by surprise in the end," Hunt said.
"He wasn't really ready for it but I don't think I'll be getting too many on Payno' again."
Walters said Munster was also a worthy winner of the FOGS Peter Jackson Memorial Award. Jackson famously stepped up at five-eighth in Wally Lewis's absence in game one of the 1988 series at the SFS to inspire a Maroons victory against the odds and Munster did everything Walters asked of him with gusto.
"I just think he epitomised everything about Queensland," Walters said of the Storm playmaker.
"He played in the halves, and then he went back to fullback and he was always willing to give his best, so to me that's right up there with the spirit that Peter Jackson gave to Queensland."