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Experts' view: Who should be the Maroons hooker?

Since Cameron Smith played his last Origin match in 2017, the Maroons have tried Andrew McCullough and Ben Hunt in the key hooking role and came up empty in consecutive series.

In 2020, with the Origin series to be played in November, a number of candidates will get the full season to stake their claim for the No.9 jersey in Kevin Walters' team.

Hunt is certain to be in the mix again while impressive youngsters Harry Grant (Wests Tigers) and Reed Mahoney (Eels) and veteran Rooster Jake Friend are sure to put their hand up.

The experts at NRL.com have had their say on who they think should wear the No.9 for Queensland.

Experts view

Steve Renouf (Maroons legend)

Jake Friend deserves a shot at the job. He's proven he doesn't go missing in big matches and is a tireless defender and provides great service out of dummy half.

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Jamie Soward (former Blues five-eighth)

Jake Friend. His service out of dummy half is up there with the best in the game and he has earned his shot at Origin after many years toiling away for the Roosters, for the most part behind Cameron Smith in the Queensland pecking order. A hard-working team-first hooker that wouldn't look out of place in a Maroons jersey.

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Paul Suttor (NRL.com editor)

Ben Hunt is the ideal bench utility, Harry Grant shouldn't be thrown to the Origin wolves and there's no point picking Jake Friend in the twilight of his career so it's time for Reed Mahoney to graduate into a first assignment at Origin level. The Eels hooker can defend non-stop and has the attacking spark that Queensland will need to prevent a Blues threepeat.

Joel Gould (NRL.com reporter)

Ben Hunt won the Ron McAuliffe Medal as Maroons players' player last year and on that basis deserves another crack at hooker in 2020. Hunt has made the position his own at Origin level and loyalty will count for plenty when Kevin Walters picks his side. I would put Jake Friend on the bench to add real big-game experience and defensive clout and make rising star Harry Grant 18th man to give him a taste of the Origin arena.

Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League)

There are plenty of young, talented Queensland hookers but this year, if fit, I would select Jake Friend. He has a wealth of experience and has been extremely unlucky to miss out on an Origin position in the past. There's also an opportunity to pick one of the younger hookers on the bench and give them the chance to be mentored by Friend.  

Dan Walsh (NRL.com reporter)

Reed Mahoney. An absolute lottery this position but I expect Ben Hunt to be retained in a bench utility role. Expecting Mahoney to only keep improving throughout 2020 and he's already got Origin written all over him. Finals form will have next-to-nothing between Mahoney and Jake Friend, so backing the young colt in.

Troy Whittaker (NRL.com reporter)

Harry Grant is likely to own Queensland’s No.9 jumper in years to come, but Jake Friend is the man for the job in 2020. Tough, experienced, reliable, skilful and a big-game player - Friend ticks every Origin box. Ben Hunt has been solid and should play as a bench utility. 

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Martin Lenehan (NRL.com senior journalist)

If I was Kevin Walters I'd be putting in a call to Cameron Smith to see whether he'd consider "doing an Alfie" and coming back to help the Maroons avoid a third straight series loss. If that comes up empty then hand Ben Hunt the No.9 again. He did a solid job for Queensland last year and he's had plenty of Origin experience.

Margie McDonald (NRL.com senior reporter)

Jake Friend. If he was a little older I'd be saying Harry Grant, but Friend is only 30 and that means he's got three or four years' service in him. I'm tempted to opt for 22-year-old Harry Grant but the he has than 10 NRL games under his belt. Friend has over 250 and he is also a three-time premiership winner. So if anyone knows pressure, big-game atmosphere, expectation, it's the Noosa Pirates junior.

Zac Bailey (NRL.com reporter)

Jake Friend. The Roosters co-captain has been pushing to make his Origin debut ever since Cameron Smith announced his retirement from representative footy. He was edged out by Andrew McCullough that year before he was unavailable for selection in 2019. Given his leadership and big-game experience, the No.9 jersey is his at the moment, but if Harry Grant continues his current form Friend’s debut could be under threat … again.

Kenny Scott (NRL.com Sunday Session podcaster)

Incumbency is an old rugby league trope but in the case of the Maroons hooker, it has relevancy. Ben Hunt has proven himself at hooker for both the Maroons and the Kangaroos, and at a time when leadership is thin on the ground in the Queensland playing ranks, they'll need as much experience as they can get.

Chris Kennedy (NRL.com reporter)

Jake Friend. It's a very tough call on Andrew McCullough who is in near career-best form and has played Origin before but Friend would have been there previously if not for injury and is a premiership-winner playing in a team that is dominating. He's in brilliant form and is happy to make 60 tackles if needed. Ben Hunt should be the Maroons bench utility.

Tanisha Stanton (NRL.com reporter)

With the change to the Origin schedule this year something tells me that Reed Mahoney may get his Origin call up. With the way Parramatta are playing at the moment a finals appearance is a no-brainer. The Eels No.9 just needs to remain as instrumental up until then and throughout for him to be a real chance of making his Maroons debut.  

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Brad Walter (NRL.com senior reporter)

Reed Mahoney is a big reason the Eels are doing so well this season and he has the edge on Harry Grant in experience at this stage. Hunt is playing the utility role for the Dragons and is an ideal No.14 at rep level.

Alicia Newton (NRL.com reporter)

I would stick with Ben Hunt purely because at Origin level he's never let anyone down at hooker. In a season of uncertainty, a lot will come down to the workload over a three-week period. For that reason, experience should be highly considered. At this stage, Reed Mahoney and Jake Friend are also likely to be playing finals footy whereas Hunt may have a month off leading into the series, which may not necessarily be a bad thing.

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Lone Scout (NRL.com Fantasy guru)

Ben Hunt is the incumbent and Harry Grant is the future of the Queensland No.9 jersey, but the nature of the unusual 2020 season means Jake Friend is my pick. Origin this year begins five and a half weeks after the end of the regular season, so players from teams unlikely to go far in the finals – like Hunt and Grant – are at a disadvantage. 

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.