Hunt told to run 'his' Maroons team
New Maroons half Ben Hunt has been told it is "his team" to run as Queensland selectors urge the new members of the spine to own the positions for the next six years.
A tally of 101 games of Origin experience walked out the door with the representative retirements of Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith over the last 12 months.
Origin debutant and Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough and halves combination Cameron Munster and Hunt, with two Origin games between them, were unveiled in the key spine positions at the Maroons team announcement at the XXXX Brewery in Brisbane on Monday.
Titans forward Jai Arrow and Storm forward Felise Kaufusi will also make their Queensland debuts in Game One of the Holden State of Origin series on June 6 at the MCG.
Queensland chairman of selectors Gene Miles urged Munster, Hunt and McCullough to grab their golden chance to pin down long-term Origin careers.
"The guys that have retired have over 100 Origin games between them and these guys in their early days can hopefully settle in those positions for the next six years," Miles said.
"They are so important the seven, six and nine these days. They have it all in front of them and we just hope they grab this with both hands and run with it.
"They have to step up. There is no more JT, no more Cooper Cronk and no more Cameron. This day was unfortunately coming at some stage, and here we are."
Hunt is set to be the lynchpin in the Maroons side.
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"It will basically be Hunty's team and Kevvie [Walters] has told him that," Miles said.
"He's been doing a very good job for St George and we want that to transition into State of Origin footy. His kicking game is vastly improved and he will be required to kick ... and do some organising as well."
The long-standing combination between McCullough and Hunt is set to be crucial, Miles said.
"They have been playing footy together for 15 years and not only that, they are besties. So their understanding obviously came into calculations as well," Miles said.
"That is always beneficial on the footy field when you know what [the other] is thinking."
Hunt did not finish the clash with the Penrith Panthers on Saturday night due to a leg cork, but coach Walters said he was "very confident that he will be right".
"It is some sort of cork but we believe he will be fine and do a great job for Queensland," Walters said.
"I really enjoyed working with Ben at the Broncos and I could see the skill level and the desire in Ben to become a really good halfback.
"We have seen that progression this year at the Dragons and I expect that to continue at the next level for Queensland."
Broncos captain Darius Boyd missed selection after 28 Origin games for Queensland, with Valentine Holmes and 2017 player of the series Dane Gagai preferred on the wings.
Veteran front-rower Matt Scott also was overlooked after 22 appearances for Queensland, with Dylan Napa and Jarrod Wallace preferred as starting props.
"The worst part of my job is ringing those players [like Darius Boyd and Matt Scott] and letting them know they're not in the team," Walters said.
"Matt Scott for mine needs to play some more football yet. I said to him by no means is he out of the picture and he can play a role in this Origin series."
More than 55,000 tickets have been sold for the series opener, with a crowd in excess of 80,000 expected.
Maroons team for game one: 1 Billy Slater, 2 Valentine Holmes, 3 Greg Inglis (c), 4 Will Chambers, 5 Dane Gagai, 6 Cameron Munster, 7 Ben Hunt, 8 Dylan Napa, 9 Andrew McCullough, 10 Jarrod Wallace, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Felise Kaufusi, 13 Josh McGuire. Interchange: 14 Michael Morgan, 15 Josh Papalii, 16 Coen Hess, 17 Jai Arrow
Witness Australia's greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday, June 6. Tickets available at NRL.com/tickets.