Queensland Maroons dark horse

There has been much speculation about who will wear the No.9 jersey for Queensland in State of Origin Game I on June 5 at Suncorp Stadium.

Brisbane Broncos' Andrew McCullough is the Queensland incumbent hooker, but he may have some tough competition for the Maroons No.9 jersey this year. 

Veteran hooker and Sydney Roosters captain Jake Friend was thrown up as a potential candidate for the Maroons in 2019, however the 29-year-old has since succumbed to a bicep injury that is likely to rule the 2018 premiership-winning hooker out for the remainder of the season.

There has also been discussion around St George Illawarra Dragons and Maroons half Ben Hunt moving into hooker - a position he has played in the past - for the 2019 State of Origin series.

By all means Hunt is a terrific player and I have no doubt he will do a job for Queensland, regardless of where he is named to play.

Hunt is a handy attacking option out of dummy half; playing hooker would be a step up defensively, and a big ask to expect the 29-year-old to play close to 80 minutes out of position in the middle. 

Enter Reed Mahoney.

The Parramatta Eels No.9 has been a revelation since bursting onto the scene for the Eels back in Round 14 last year.

The 21-year-old, originally from the Sunshine Coast, has been in fine form for the Eels, and is a big reason Parramatta sit inside the top eight after seven rounds of  competition.

Mahoney enjoyed success donning maroon in 2018, when the Queensland under-20 side claimed a drought-breaking 30-12 victory over New South Wales.

The former Kawana Dolphins junior is a crafty playmaker with a good short kicking game and is explosive out of dummy half.

The Eels rake currently sits second in the NRL for tackles made, with 339; he  averages 48 tackles per game at an efficiency rate of 89 per cent.

Hunt has made less tackles with 148, which is expected for a half; he averages 21 tackles per game at an efficiency rate of 80 per cent.

Statistically it is hard to draw comparison between Hunt, as a half, and Mahoney, as a hooker, as they both play different positions.

However, one key statistic that must be noted is Hunt has made half the amount of tackles, but has three less missed tackles (26) than Mahoney (29).

Drawing comparisons between the two players, Mahoney has the advantage over Hunt from a defensive perspective, and it is evident the youngster can handle a high work rate with minimal error. 

In Game III last year, Hunt played 50 minutes at hooker after coming off the bench to replace McCullough; he was limited to just 28 metres in attack as his defensive workload had ultimately increased. 

At this point in time, we don't need to replicate Cameron Smith; an 80-minute workhorse. We need to look to maximise creativity out of dummy half like New South Wales have done with Damien Cook and Tyrone Peachey. 

If the Maroons are to capitalise on the speed, skills and running game of Hunt from dummy half, they need to utilise the Queensland playmaker in a manner that allows him to play his natural game.

If Hunt and Mahoney were to share the responsibility, this would alleviate defensive pressures that would be placed on Hunt, if he were required to play hooker.

If Mahoney was to start the game at hooker and absorb early defensive pressure from NSW, this would allow Hunt to come onto the field in the second phase and play his natural game, similar to how Cooper Cronk, Michael Morgan and Daly Cherry-Evans were utilised early in their Origin careers. 

Unless Smith makes a miraculous return to the State of Origin arena, Mahoney should come into calculations.