McCullough misery as Maroons axe looms
Queensland hooker Andrew McCullough is fighting to save his Origin career with Brisbane's dismal early season form leaving the Broncos veteran in danger of being axed by the Maroons.
The retirement of skipper Greg Inglis is not the only ruction to hit Camp Maroon, with coach Kevin Walters and selector Darren Lockyer declaring McCullough's Roosters rival Jake Friend is "right back in contention" for an Origin debut.
Meanwhile, Queensland legend Billy Moore believes Walters must roll the dice with the in-form Ben Hunt at hooker to give the Maroons more dummy-half spark to counter NSW danger man Damien Cook.
Statistics underline McCullough's struggles amid the Broncos' shock free fall into the premiership cellar after five rounds.
The incumbent Queensland rake has not created a line break, try assist or line-break assist in 400 minutes of football this season. After a month without a tackle bust, McCullough registered two in last week's 22-16 loss to the Tigers.
By comparison, NSW rival Cook is blowing McCullough off the park. The Souths speed machine has already amassed 10 tackle busts, six try assists and four line-break assists to underline the threat he will again pose to the Maroons this season.
Walters has such enormous respect for McCullough he handed him his maiden Queensland jumper last year, but Maroons hierarchy say they have several options for the crucial hooking role.
"The No.9 jumper I'm looking at closely," Walters said.
"Jake Friend this time last year was injured and wasn't setting the world on fire, but his football at the back end of last year was tremendous. He is right back in contention.
"Andrew McCullough is there for Brisbane so there are some good options for us, but the Broncos are struggling and that's affecting 'Macca'."
Asked about Hunt's prospects at hooker, Walters said: "We used him there last year in the No.14 jumper (for Origin III), so it's a path we may go down as well.
"I liked the way Andrew started the game (in Origin III) and then Ben came on there and provided some spark.
"That's an option for us certainly."
McCullough played all three games for the Maroons last year but Moore says Brisbane's dismal 1-4 start has put the Broncos' 241-game stalwart in the Origin firing line.
"I personally would experiment with Ben Hunt at hooker, but you need to be sure of what he can give you," Moore said.
"If Kevvie decides he needs more penetration, it could cost McCullough his spot.
"Look, Andrew McCullough is a great tradesman. He's a 7-and-a-half out of 10 type of player, he is what coaches love. He will give you 40 tackles and miss one, but the one string he doesn't have to his bow is the Damien Cook string.
"He can't cut you up from dummy half unless somehow the markers are really sloppy.
"McCullough is a victim of the Broncos' form. It depends what Kevvie wants. If he wants rock solid stability, he goes McCullough. If he wants some X-factor, he needs to choose Hunt."
Former Maroons skipper Lockyer urged McCullough to take on the defensive line.
"Andrew is getting through a lot of work and doing the little this well, but the Broncos can improve their completion rate it would be good to see him running on the front foot more," he said.
"With a lot of leadership and experience leaving the team over the last couple years that brings Jake's name in to the conversation.
"He is back on the park soon from injury and hopefully he stays fit and healthy."