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Back in the Hunt: Ben's return adds bench value for Maroons

Ben Hunt knew before he was even told that he would be the fall guy dropped for last year's Origin series decider – missing one of Queensland's greatest Origin triumphs.

When you've been around the game as long as Hunt and experienced the highs and lows like few could imagine, you just sense when you're about to get the dreaded tap on the shoulder.

"I was pretty disappointed but I kind of felt like it was going to go that way after game two," Hunt said.

"I feel like I know footy pretty well and have a good idea what coaches are going to do and after game two I kind of felt like it was going to happen so I'm not blaming anyone or anything like that.

"It's just myself and how I played. It was really pleasing to see Queensland get out and get that win [in the decider]."

McCullough ambitious to bring out best in Hunt

Fast forward seven months and how the tables have turned. Now it's Hunt being called upon to help rescue the series for Queensland.

"Yeah, very excited to be back in," he said.

"It's always a real privilege to be picked in the side obviously.

"I feel like I've played some pretty good patches of footy [this year] but I just want to be more consistent."

Maroons v Blues - Origin II

What role Hunt will play in Game Two depends on a variety of factors. The most likely scenario is coach Paul Green will bring him on late in the first half to replace hooker Andrew McCullough to provide a bit of spark out of dummy half.

But the 31-year-old knows he needs to be ready for anything, like in Game Two last year when Cameron Munster was ruled out with a HIA in the opening five minutes and he had to slot into the halves.

"I think it's something I've worked myself into in my career, I've been able to play a few different positions and it suits me pretty well," he said.

"At the moment I'm not 100 per cent sure how I'm going to be used. Greeny said he will talk to me during the week and iron it out but I've just got to be ready for anything.

"You've got to have a good variety in your team now where a few blokes can play a few different positions because the way the head knocks are happening it can be shuffled around pretty quick."

Hunt credits St George Illawarra coach Anthony Griffin for helping him rediscover his spark in 2021.

The Dragons halfback was copping it from every direction for not delivering on his $1 million price tag since joining from the Broncos in 2018, but the arrival of his former coach Griffin restored his belief.

He was promoted to captain and he's been surrounded by familiar faces with his former Broncos grand final teammate McCullough also recruited in February.

"[Griffin] has definitely been helpful for me," Hunt said.

"Right from the start of preseason he put a lot of confidence in myself and Corey [Norman] and I guess our whole squad and really drove us to take control of the team and go after it.

"He has really helped me get back to playing some good footy."

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Hunt was 18th man for the Maroons in Origin I, and many were surprised he was overlooked for the bench role with AJ Brimson the preferred option but having little impact in his 16 minutes of action.

But being in Townsville gave Hunt a front-row seat to the tropical torture from NSW and he knows where Queensland's focus must be to turn around the heaviest Origin defeat of all-time.

"It's just defensively is the big one," he said.

"Whenever a team puts a lot of points on you like that you need to look at your defence and what you can fix up there.

"You just have to find a way to go to another level when you play Origin. You've got so many great players around you and when you step out in that arena in a Maroons jersey I don't know you just find something a little bit more and you give everything you've got."

 

Origin II in Brisbane is sold out but tickets are still on sale for game three at Stadium Australia in Sydney on July 14 - get your tickets at NRL.com/tickets.