In an era not too long ago, the Australian No.9 jersey was a foregone conclusion. Cameron Smith was the man for the job and there was no challenging the status quo.
Even in the immediate aftermath of Smith’s departure, Damien Cook’s almost unplayable form made him a straightforward option.
But now Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga faces a different kind of dilemma than trying to work out how to replace the world’s best player – trying to decide which one of the game’s five elite No.9’s deserves to wear the jumper at the upcoming World Cup.
As well as Cook, who has been excellent during South Sydney’s late-season resurgence, Meninga also has Maroons rake Ben Hunt, Melbourne’s Harry Grant, Penrith’s veteran Api Koroisau and standout Cowboys youngster Reece Robson all putting their hands up to fill the two spots Meninga is likely to allocate to dummy-halves.
“It’s going to be difficult (choosing),” Meninga told SEN.
“Hooker is such an important position in your footy team.
“They touch the ball the most of anyone. They’re the ones who make most of the decisions as to which way the ball goes.”
Meninga confirmed players would be selected on form at all levels, which is handy for Robson, who missed out on Origin selection, as well as Hunt, who has ultimately been unable to improve the Dragons’ standing despite some incredible solo efforts.
“I work on it every day, what that 24 might look like. It changes most weeks,” Meninga admitted.
“You want a hooker who can bring the forwards onto the football, the subtleties around the (position) become really critical.
“Defensively, you’ve got to be sound because you’re a target.
“And if you can kick the ball, it allows on-field chase from your team that isn’t expected.
“Every one of those five guys can do that.”
Meninga said that versatility was also a handy attribute, with players who can fill multiple roles being beneficial in tournaments when injuries can take hold.
“Giving players time in different positions works a trick, because when you get into the finals you’ve got players who have played good game time.
“You can trust them to play a number of positions if you get injuries.”
Meninga is expected to name his tournament for the side in coming weeks.