The Hunt is over for Maroons No.7
BEN Hunt is firming as Cooper Cronk's Origin successor, with Maroons selection boss Gene Miles declaring the Dragons' $6 million man is the frontrunner for the Queensland No.7 jumper.
In a blow to Cowboys star Michael Morgan's chances of a scrumbase role, Miles said it was impossible to ignore the form of Hunt in spearheading the Dragons to the NRL competition lead.
Hunt has played just eight minutes of Origin football, making his debut in the No.14 jumper in Queensland's 22-6 win in last year's Suncorp decider.
But the former Broncos halfback now only has to avoid injury to clinch the Queensland No.7 jumper for the series opener at the MCG on June 6.
Queensland's scrumbase has been decimated by the representative retirements of Johnathan Thurston and Cronk, and Miles backed Hunt to orchestrate a new era with five-eighth incumbent Cameron Munster.
Asked if Hunt was the frontrunner, Miles said emphatically: "Of course he is.
"Anyone who hasn't been impressed with Ben Hunt's form over the past nine rounds is pretty hard to please.
"They (the Dragons) are getting good value for the money they paid.
"Michael (Morgan) has played the No.14 (utility) role remarkably over his term. He played Game Three at centre last year and he did a fantastic job, his versatility is great.
"I'm sure he would love to have the No.7 jumper on his back but he will play a role at 14 if Ben is given the (halfback) role.
"Although Ben only had a short stint in Game Three last year, he's doing everything right and I just hope he stays healthy now.
"He is very hard to ignore."
Of Munster's five-eighth claims, Miles said: "There's no doubt about Munster, he is playing extremely well for Melbourne and did a great job for us in Game Three last year.
"He just has to continue his form."
Hunt's career-best form is a kick in the guts for the Broncos, who refused to enter a bidding war with the Dragons last year, instead offering a $1 million deal to five-eighth Anthony Milford.
But while Milford has been patchy this year, Hunt has gone to another level and will be shooting for his ninth win from 10 games when the Dragons face Souths on Sunday.
Miles concedes the Maroons face an impossible task trying to combat the loss of the Thurston-Cronk alliance.
"That's a void we won't fill in my time with Queensland," he said. "But the guys we pick will do the job, I have no doubt about that. The guys realise what 'JT' and 'Coops' did for the team and they don't want to be part of a losing series.
"They have been such dominant players and will go down among the best, but life goes on.
"We just hope the guys who played with them for 10 or 12 years have really absorbed how they prepared for games."