A singular defensive mindset not only drove Ben Hunt to play an active role in Queensland’s second-half comeback on Wednesday night but secured him the Maroons’ No.9 for the foreseeable future.
Hunt made his intentions clear with two strong defensive efforts in the opening set of the game and carried that focus through the entire 80 minutes, shooting out of the line to put shots on Blues debutant Payne Haas and climbing from the Suncorp Stadium turf following a desperate tackle on Angus Crichton in the dying seconds of the game.
All told the Dragons half made a game-high 53 tackles in Queensland’s 18-14 Game One triumph and now looks set to be become the long-term successor to legendary Maroons hooker Cameron Smith.
"I love playing in this team. Whether it's nine, seven, 14 or anywhere else I just want to be here,” Hunt told NRL.com.
"I just hope that every time I get an opportunity I can put my hand up and show the selectors that I deserve to be here. If No.9 is the spot they want me to play then I'll play it.”
When 19-year-old Haas made his Origin entry 22 minutes into the contest the sight of Hunt making a beeline for the Brisbane behemoth was the ultimate mismatch.
Conceding 15 centimetres and 31 kilograms, there was method to Hunt’s madness as he used his defensive intent to spark his own attacking performance that included a crucial 40/20 kick midway through the first half.
"I just didn't want to let him wind up too much,” Hunt said of his Haas approach. “The quicker I can get up on him the less pace he's got coming at me.
“That's how I try to approach the big boys. If I can get up before they start running too fast then I've got a better chance.
“My whole career I've felt like if I've started defending well in the game then I tend to play well in the game. That was my main focus going into it.
"I just felt like I was in the game a bit more [in the second half]. To be honest, the first half I just felt like I was tackling the whole time so I was a bit wrecked.
“I seemed to get into my groove a bit in the second half and find a bit of rhythm.”
Encouraged by coach Kevin Walters to run more in the second term, Hunt ultimately accrued 78 run metres and provided a spark from dummy-half that the likes of Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans and Kalyn Ponga then played off.
"Just run the ball Ben, that's what you're there for,” Walters said of his half-time instructions.
"He got through the 80 minutes magnificently and everyone knows the belief that I have in Ben Hunt.
"I love him as a football player. He's tough, rugged, skilful and I thought he showed his real class in that second half.
"A couple of defensive plays that he pulled off and he got more active in the game.”
Greeted by eldest son Brady at full-time, Hunt also had two-month old baby Bowie in the stands for the first time, making his third win in his fifth Origin appearance the sweetest one thus far.
"It's the best feeling in the world, to see their face after the game,” Hunt said of having his two boys and wife Bridget in the stands and in the sheds after the game.
“He's starting to understand now what it is and starts cheering, it just makes it all a little bit more enjoyable.”