Ben Hunt’s Origin II has cast doubts over how the halfback handles high pressure moments, and leave the door ajar for Daly Cherry-Evans to return.
Hunt had the weight of his state on his shoulders heading into the second game of the State of Origin series, with the Maroons down 1-0 and on the verge of losing their second series in the space of thirteen years.
Despite Queensland suffering a 22-12 loss a few weeks ago, besides Greg Inglis, Ben Hunt was arguably the Maroons’ best player in Game I on the back of his strong kicking game.
But on Sunday night, when the game was on the line, Hunt cracked.
The halfback’s performance will be defined by a single play late in the game, a play that ultimately cost Queensland a fourth consecutive series.
It was the 70th minute, James Roberts had just been sin-binned for taking out Gavin Cooper in a kick chase. New South Wales were pegged on their on line, a man down, defending a repeat set. Queensland had the Blues just were they wanted them.
Yet on just the third tackle of the set, Hunt dabbed a grubber behind the Blues, hurdling over the dead ball line, handing them a seven tackle set, and ultimately the series.
And this isn’t Hunt’s first major error in a big game, either.
His career thus far has been marred by his performance late in 2015 NRL Grand Final, 20 minutes Hunt would much rather forget.
From the 65th minute onwards, the former Bronco tried to wind the clock down with a series of touching finding kicks instead of trying to attack the Cowboys’ line, attempting to defend Brisbane’s slender 16-12 lead.
Then, with a minute on the clock, Hunt’s loose carry saw Kyle Feldt strip the ball one-on-one, handing North Queensland possession that would eventually lead to a four-pointer less than a minute later.
The biggest howler of all however came seconds into golden point, with Hunt dropping the kick off, and Jonathan Thurston slotting a premiership-winning field goal three tackles later.
Hunt just isn’t a big game player.
The reaction to Hunt’s game management in Game II has been so negative that fans have called the axe to swing on Hunt, and Daly Cherry-Evans to regain his spot in the Marina line-up, despite a three year exclusion.
Cherry-Evans has found a new lease on life since being handed Manly’s captaincy, but the Sea Eagles’ off-field dramas has reflected to the club’s on-field performance, with the Trbojevic brothers the only Manly stars featuring in the series.
Blooding Ash Taylor could also be an option for head coach Kevin Walters, but it seems certain rising star Kalyn Ponga will start in Game III following a fantastic debut from the interchange bench.
St George Illawarra fans must be nervous as well following Hunt’s performance, with the club banking on their star recruit to deliver in this year’s NRL Finals Series, but confidence must be low following a series defeat in only his second match as a starting half in the Origin arena.
Whether Hunt retains his position or Cherry-Evans earns a recall is anyone’s guess, but regardless of Walter’s decision, it’s not a great time to be a Queenslander.