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7 hours ago
Karmichael Hunt is set to be thrown the toughest challenge of his brief rugby league career on Tuesday as champion Darren Lockyer's Origin replacement.
The No.6 maroon jumper Lockyer has worn for 11 successive Origins as captain since the second game of 2004 has been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks.
Melbourne's Greg Inglis and Titans halfback Scott Prince, who's been in career best form, were the front-runners until a big push arrived for Hunt at the weekend.
Brisbane's former Origin coach Wayne Bennett has come out publicly in favour of Prince partnering Johnathan Thurston in the halves, warning Queensland selectors they'd look "silly" picking Hunt ahead of him.
Hunt said after Sunday's 30-12 loss to Manly he expected Prince to get the nod.
But coach Mal Meninga, a surprise visitor at Brisbane training last week, is believed to be keen on having Hunt take over Lockyer's play making role against the Blues as he shoots for a third straight series win.
The positional shift would clear the decks to name Test No.1 Billy Slater, to play his sixth Origin and his first since 2005, at fullback.
Hunt's style of ripping kick returns back fearlessly into the defence is perfectly suited to Origin where every centimetre counts.
While Slater takes a less direct path, he's improved key areas of his game that were a concern at Origin to a point where he now has legitimate claims to play fullback.
Unless Prince is named as Queensland's interchange utility, he's heading for another selection backhander, not because of his form, which has been outstanding, but because of the way Queensland want to play.
Queensland selectors, Des Morris, Origin original Allan Smith and Gene Miles, met with coach Meninga on Monday and will announce their 17-man squad on Tuesday afternoon.
The forward pack is unlikely to contain any surprises with Brisbane's Ben Hannant poised to be handed his Origin debut.
Nate Myles, Jacob Lillyman and Michael Crocker will be rewarded for past deeds while in-form Broncos forward Sam Thaiday should be recalled after the disappointment of missing last year's series through injury.
The biggest headache will be finding a player capable of doing the exceptional job utility Shaun Berrigan has performed in the past few years.
Brisbane work horse David Stagg's name was tossed up at the weekend as a player who could play Berrigan's role.
But it would not be beyond the realms of possibility to see selectors pull a surprise by naming either Storm halfback Cooper Cronk or Cowboy utility Aaron Payne.
Both would be capable of giving hooker Cameron Smith - in line to add the Queensland captaincy to his list of achievements - a spell and they would also be insurance should the halves experiment with Hunt not work out.
Former NSW prop Luke Bailey, set to return from a wrist injury against the Bulldogs on Friday night, said he didn't think Prince was getting his Origin hopes up too high after being overlooked for last week's Test against New Zealand.
"I don't think he's really fussed about it. He's not going to get himself all hyped up for a setback," Bailey told AAP.
"If he makes it he'll be stoked, if he doesn't he'll be looking forward to getting back on the winner's track on Friday night."
Titans chief executive Michael Searle said he couldn't fathom how some people thought Prince would be a liability alongside Thurston, saying he would simply create more doubt in the opposition's mind.
"I think there'll be a lot of New South Welshman who would be more than happy if Princey wasn't picked," said Searle.
Likely Queensland squad: Billy Slater, Brent Tate, Justin Hodges, Israel Folau, Greg Inglis, Karmichael Hunt, Johnathan Thurston, Peter Civoniceva, Cameron Smith (c), Ben Hannant, Sam Thaiday, Nate Myles, Dallas Johnson. Interchange: Cooper Cronk, Carl Webb, Michael Crocker, Jacob Lillyman.