With Harry Grant an unlikely starter for the opening match of the 2021 Holden State of Origin series, attention turns to the two men in the running to fill the jersey.
Dragons utility Ben Hunt and Eels rake Reed Mahoney are the primary options, and both have plenty to offer.
NRL.com senior journalists Martin Lenehan and Paul Zalunardo look at the merits of both, and how they can best be used by the Maroons.
For & Against - Ben Hunt should get Origin nod over Reed Mahoney
For - NRL.com senior journalist Martin Lenehan
Experience is a valuable commodity at State of Origin level and Ben Hunt has been there and done it during the past four seasons.
The 31-year-old played hooker in all three games in 2019 and then reverted to a bench role last year when Jake Friend was handed a debut in the No.9 jersey.
Because Origin isn’t motivated by victory, it’s powered by rivalry
Hunt's kicking game out of dummy half and his ability to spot an opening around the ruck makes him the ideal man to start the game and get the Maroons machine rolling in tandem with Daly Cherry-Evans.
With so much big-game experience under his belt, Hunt won't be overawed by the frenetic early exchanges and he'll take some of the pressure off DCE by offering a second kicking option.
Reed Mahoney is a fine player and his time in the Maroons starting side will come but rookie coach Paul Green should be going into his first series with proven performers in key positions.
Hunt has many strings to his bow and he can bring the most value to the Maroons by being on the ground from the outset rather than cooling his heels on the bench and having too long to think about what impact he can make when finally called upon by Green.
The Dragons playmaker has been part of Test match wins for Australia, Origin victories with Queensland and he has played in a grand final.
With the Blues desperate to atone for their shock series loss in 2020, the opening game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground will be one of the most intense we have seen for many years and an intimidating atmosphere for a rookie to deal with.
With 259 games of NRL experience and nine Origins to his name, Hunt will be right at home in the pressure cooker environment and he's the steady hand Green needs at the wheel in Game One.
This is a Rivalry that knows no boundaries
Against - NRL.com senior journalist Paul Zalunardo
Ben Hunt is a proven performer in the Maroons No.9 jersey, but he has more to offer in the No.14 role via the interchange bench.
Provided Harry Grant is ruled out through injury, Reed Mahoney is best suited to start the match at hooker.
Mahoney has proven during his still young NRL career that he doesn’t back down from the tough stuff and can provide great service out of dummy half.
Hunt can also do that, but his versatility means Maroons coach Paul Green could use him in a range of positions.
He could fill in for Mahoney if he needs a rest, provide cover as either a halfback or five-eighth if injury strikes or even play as an under-sized, yet speedy, middle forward in the final 20 minutes.
Behind the scenes with JT
Who can forget the stellar job Grant did in that role in the deciding match at Suncorp Stadium last year.
Hunt has played strongly so far in 2021 for a Dragons side that has endured mixed form.
He has played nine Origin matches thus far, and while his win-loss record is 4-5, he provided strong service.
As well as playing for an Eels side that has made a 9-2 start to the season, Mahoney’s individual numbers are impressive.
He has a tackle efficiency rate of 91.1 per cent while averaging just over 44 tackles per match.
With the ball, he has 10 try assists, 10 line break assists and has forced three drop outs with some deft kicks close to the line.
Perhaps most importantly, it is the refusal to back down to anyone that means he’d fit straight into the Maroons' way of thinking.
He’ll happily stare down Blues No.9 Damien Cook if given the chance and convince himself he can get the better of him on the big stage.
That’d allow Hunt to cool his heels for the opening 25-30 minutes before messing with the Blues defensive line.
Just as they did last year, Queensland are going to need a few youngsters to take their game to new levels if they're to make it two in a row. Who better than Reed Mahoney to do just that.
Ben Hunt v Reed Mahoney for Maroons No.9?
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The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.