State of Origin 2019: Hunt bracing for Blues onslaught as selection at hooker looms

IN THE CROSSHAIRS: Ben Hunt can expect plenty of attention from the Blues big men if selected at hooker for Queensland. Picture: NRL Photos
IN THE CROSSHAIRS: Ben Hunt can expect plenty of attention from the Blues big men if selected at hooker for Queensland. Picture: NRL Photos

BEN Hunt is no stranger to unwanted attention, and Dragons teammate Paul Vaughan says he can expect plenty if he's selected in the No. 9 for Queensland on Sunday.

Vaughan is a virtual certainty to be selected for NSW while Hunt is in the same boat, though which number he wears on his back remains a mystery.

Most are tipping him to play dummy-half for the Maroons with Andrew McCullough and Jake Friend out injured and Cameron Smith keeping his feet firmly planted in retirement.

It will certainly see him tested out in the middle by the Blues big men and Vaughan said he'll be at the front of the queue.

"I'm going straight at him," Vaughan said.

"He just jumps up like a lizard. His technique in defence is questionable so if he's [number] nine and I'm 10, I'll send a little bit of traffic his way.

Hunt doesn't mind offering a few sledges of his own, sending some barbs back Vaughan's way.

"I'd love for him to run at me," Hunt said.

"The big slop in the middle, slow play-the-balls, it'll really get our sets going if he's the one bringing the ball back."

It's all tongue-in-cheek but there's certainly an element of truth to the threats. You can bet Hunt will certainly be a prime target of the NSW forwards if he does turn out for the Maroons at hooker.

It's something Hunt himself is well aware of but he's confident he can go the 80 minutes in the middle if called upon by Kevin Walters.

"You expect that when you play number nine, the big boys are going to try and find you out. I'm used to that," he said.

"In the past I don't think I'd have been able to do it but when I played all that nine at the Broncos [in 2016] - I think it was eight or 10 games - I worked my way into finding ways to stay in the game and being able to defend in the middle for 80 minutes.

"I'm pretty confident now that I can do that. I'm fit and feeling good at the moment and I feel like I can do the job. I don't even know if I'm going to be picked at nine yet so we'll see."

The 29-year-old said he's had semi-regular conversations with Walters, but said his primary focus has been on the Dragons, who are staring down the barrel of five straight losses against Cronulla on Sunday.

"We've had a few [conversations] throughout the season," he said.

"He called me a couple of weeks ago and we just had a chat about the season and the footy I've been playing, not really about Origin or anything like that.

"It was more about things he thinks I can do better and things I need to work on. I've had thoughts about [Origin] but mostly I've been focused on the Dragons.

"It's obviously been a bit tough for us of late and I've just been working really hard to get us back in the winning game again."

Hunt's been forced to work overtime at different stages this season, with Gareth Widdop and Corey Norman both missing with serious injuries.

It's seen him wear the brunt of criticism for the Dragons recent run. It's something he's no stranger to, but he remains his own harshest critic.

"They are definitely big losses and the last couple of weeks there has been a little bit more pressure on myself and I don't think I've played as good as I needed to play," he said.

"Especially against the Knights, I was pretty disappointed with that first half. We got behind by a few points and I feel like I was trying to do too much and look for the wrong play rather than keeping it simple in my head and sticking to our game plan.

"That's something as halfback you've got to do. Where our team's at now I need to put my hand up and be better in those situations.

"I'm the main voice telling us where to get to on the field and what we need to be doing. I need to be better at that than I've been the last couple of weeks."