Ben Hunt and Andrew McCullough have a long lasting friendship.
Ben Hunt and Andrew McCullough have a long lasting friendship.

From schoolboys to the watchhouse, and Maroon

ANDREW McCullough reckons he has a sixth sense connection with Ben Hunt.

It started in 2001 when the budding young footy players first confronted each other as schoolboys standouts.

A year later they were Queensland under-12s teammates. From there, legendary Broncos scout Cyril Connell added the duo to his stable of future NRL stars.

The McCullough and Hunt story has twisted through the dusty fields of Dalby, 200km west of Brisbane, and Dingo in central Queensland, to the Broncos' famous Red Hill home and even a city watch-house.

 

At the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday, they will play State of Origin for Queensland together for the first time when McCullough makes his debut as Cameron Smith's successor and Hunt steps up to the Maroons No. 7 jersey.

"It's crazy to be reunited," McCullough told The Courier-Mail.

"It started back in 2001 as two schoolboys playing against each other and with each other.

"I was playing for the Darling Downs, and he was playing for Capricornia. I was in the centres and he was halfback then.

"Then in 2002, we made the Queensland team and he was halfback and I was fullback. We were 12 years old.

"Seventeen years later, we are putting on a Maroons jersey together and running on to the MCG. It's surreal. It's been an amazing journey for both of us."

Hunt and McCullough were two of Cyril Connell’s last recruits for Brisbane.
Hunt and McCullough were two of Cyril Connell’s last recruits for Brisbane.

CYRIL'S LAST RECRUITS

Connell was one of Broncos coach Wayne Bennett's closest allies.

He was the man Bennett entrusted with delivering Brisbane a steady stream of NRL talent, spotting the likes of Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker and Darius Boyd.

Connell died in 2009, aged 81. A few years earlier he had delivered the last of his recruits to Bennett and the Broncos.

Among them were a reliable hooker in McCullough and an instinctive halfback in Hunt.

"It's pretty special the bond we have," Hunt said.

"Cyril found us at a young age. I remember him picking me up at the airport and he was the worst driver you've ever seen, I was hanging on in the passenger seat for dear life.

"Me and Macca first played in a Queensland rep side when we were 12, so we go back a while. Cyril recognised then and brought us to the Broncos and we played 10 years at Brisbane together."

McCullough said: "Cyril made the Broncos.

"He brought so many great players to the club and the amount of travel he did to find kids in the countryside is what set the Broncos up.

"Me and Ben were lucky to be some of the last kids selected by Cyril. Only a handful of us are left to appreciate what Cyril did for that club.

"It's a pretty proud moment for myself and Ben, and I know Cyril would be looking down from above really proud."

The close friends haven’t been without trouble in their time together.
The close friends haven’t been without trouble in their time together.

THE WATCHHOUSE

McCullough and Hunt, both 28, have amassed 424 NRL appearances between them with little fuss.

They were star players in Brisbane's inaugural under-20s team in 2008, the year McCullough made his NRL debut. Hunt graduated to first grade in 2009.

But a night in June, 2011, remains a small blip on two otherwise excellent careers.

Then 21, McCullough and Hunt, who joined St George-Illawarra this season, were locked up in a Brisbane watch-house for public nuisance.

"It adds to the story of me and Ben," McCullough said.

"We haven't always been straight down the line characters, but what happened that night was a reality check to appreciate what we do for a living, and not take our careers for granted.

"For mum and dad and myself, it was embarrassing. I worked so hard to get a Broncos jumper and I gave someone else a chance to wear that jersey from a stupid act, not just through bad performance.

"Most footballers go through stages like that. Mine wasn't too bad but I wasn't proud of it and learned from it.

"It was a really good life lesson."

Hunt said it was the wake-up call he needed.

"It was a turning point for both of us," he said.

"You realise how lucky you are to be where you are. You have to really enjoy it and be the best you can."

 

The pair finally get the opportunity to play together in the Origin arena.
The pair finally get the opportunity to play together in the Origin arena.

MAROON BROTHERS

McCullough will make his Queensland debut following the retirement of Maroons skipper Smith, Origin's most capped player after 42 matches and a legend of the game.

Hunt, in his second Origin, steps into the No. 7 jersey vacated by Test halfback Cooper Cronk, a chief architect in Queensland's three straight series wins.

The stakes are high. Fail at the MCG and the scrutiny will likely fall on Queensland's key playmakers.

But McCullough and Hunt feel their bond can help Queensland maintain its Origin dominance following the representative retirements of Smith, Cronk and Johnathan Thurston.

"We've played a lot together and I know what he wants and when he wants the ball," McCullough said.

"Having that combination makes my job easier.

"We do (have a sixth sense)."

Watch every game of every round of the 2018 NRL Telstra Premiership on FOX SPORTS. SIGN UP NOW >