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Kevin Walters challenges Ben Hunt to prove he can fill Maroons No.7 spot

KEVIN Walters has challenged Ben Hunt to show he is the man to succeed Cooper Cronk in the Maroons No.7 jersey as Queensland confront the reality their star halfback could be playing his final Origin.

Cronk is yet to announce his playing future and tomorrow’s decider against NSW at Suncorp Stadium could be his 22nd and final appearance for the Maroons.

The 33-year-old will depart Melbourne Storm at season’s end to live with his partner, Fox Sports presenter Tara Rushton, in Sydney and could retire from the NRL.

Cronk has admitted there will likely be no warning or fanfare when he decides to end his representative career.

With Johnathan Thurston’s Maroons career over, Cronk’s possible retirement would leave a gaping hole in Queensland’s all-star playmaking spine.

Ben Hunt hits the deck during Marrons training. Picture: AAP

Hunt, 27, will make his Origin debut as a bench utility, the same way Cronk was ushered into the arena.

And Walters told The Courier-Mail the Broncos halfback could take a big step towards being the next Maroons No.7 if he took his opportunity with both hands.

“Cooper hasn’t said anything and I’m hopeful he will be there (next year) but it is a nice little opening for Ben to show everyone the skills he can bring to this side,” he said.

“I see a really special player there. Ben is one of those guys who I can see a lot more coming from him and we are going to see a glimpse of that.

“Ben’s skill set is he’s a dangerous ballrunner and more than capable defender. He’s going to be a big bonus for the team.

“We need to see him do what he can do if Queensland is going to challenge NSW.”

Ben Hunt kicks during Maroons training. Picture: AAP

Hunt shares a special bond with Walters, having been mentored by him during Brisbane’s 2015 grand final season, and said he was ready to vindicate his selection.

“I’m feeling a lot more comfortable in the team and what my role is,” Hunt said.

“When I got the call from Kevvie it was a bit of a surprise. I’ve had a couple of quiet thoughts about it with myself.

“I need to be pretty busy when I come on. My defence has to be really good. Being a smaller fella, they will send a fair bit of traffic at me so I need to be spot on there.

“I need to have a lot of energy in attack and help the forwards move the ball around a bit. I need to catch their forwards a bit tired in the middle.”

The mystery surrounding Cronk’s future has added another layer to tomorrow’s high-stakes decider.

Before Game Two, Maroons captain Cameron Smith said he believed his Storm teammate was playing his final series but yesterday softened his stance.

“Who knows, maybe he’ll play on. It changes every day. I can’t get a read on him,” he said.

“Cooper doesn’t speak about it and we don’t ask him about it, so until we hear it from the horse’s mouth there’s no real reason to speculate or even guess what’s going to happen.”

Cronk said: “No matter the result, it won’t have a bearing on my decision.

“I really said to myself ‘just get through this stuff and we’ll worry about it afterwards’.

“Even if I knew, I probably wouldn’t be saying anything anyway.”

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