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Meninga gives Ben Hunt a licence to roam

Ben Hunt is set to replicate the role perfected by Kalyn Ponga after being given a roaming licence by Australian coach Mal Meninga.

Hunt has been included on the Kangaroos bench for Saturday’s Test against New Zealand but with hooker Damien Cook set to be entrusted to punch out the full 80 minutes, he seems unlikely to spend time at dummy-half.

Hunt has been told by Meninga to be ready for anything and everything.

He’s already proved himself capable of withstanding the rigours of playing in the middle, having played there at club and Origin level as well as for the Prime Minister’s XIII last weekend.

He now looks set to play the loose forward-utility role which has been a staple of the Queensland game plan in the recent past.

Newcastle fullback Ponga starred for the Maroons in game two this year after coming on as a replacement back-rower, which involved defending in close but playing as floating half.

And Hunt hinted he would serve a similar role for the Kangaroos against the Kiwis.

“Looking at the way we’re training (Cook) probably will go 80 and I’ll play somewhere in the middle,” Hunt said.

“Or I might sub him out somewhere towards the end of the first half. I’m not too sure.

“Mal’s told me to be ready to play in the middle or play at hooker.

“Something like Queensland has done quite a bit in Origin with (Michael) Morgan, (Daly) Cherry-Evans and Ponga on the bench.”

Hunt got the nod for Australian utility spot ahead of Penrith’s Tyrone Peachey despite his indifferent post-Origin form..

And the St George Illawarra playmaker made no secret of the fact he was surprised to be there and said he felt he owed a debt of gratitude towards Meninga.

Hunt has been open about his decision to seek professional help after a flood of criticism following the Maroons’ Origin series loss and the Dragons’ poor final third of the year.

He said Meninga’s unwavering support had helped him get through a testing period and he felt better equipped to deal with the highs and lows of professional rugby league.

“I really appreciate that from Mal,” Hunt said.

“He’s told me he’s got a lot of faith in me and believes I can play good footy.

“It wasn’t the best back-end of the season. For him to be loyal, I’m really grateful.”

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