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Hunt credits pre-season 'flogging' for Origin resilience

Ben Hunt credits an absolute "flogging" from Dragons head of athletic performance Nathan Pickworth for getting him in the physical shape to play 80 minutes as Maroons hooker.

The 29-year-old St George Illawarra halfback has been arguably Queensland's best player in the opening two games of the State of Origin series at hooker, playing full games in both.

In Origin I he made 53 tackles with just three misses and he backed that up with 44 tackles in Origin II. He missed seven tackles in that game but was in the thick of it as NSW ran riot.

It was also a Hunt grubber that led to his side's only four-pointer courtesy of a penalty try to Will Chambers.

"It was a bloody tough pre-season under Nathan Pickworth, the head of performance down there," Hunt grinned.

"I thought I had done some pretty tough pre-seasons in my time. In my early days at the Broncos there were definitely a few and I was a bit overweight back then, which is probably what was making them hard.

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"The last two pre-seasons down at the Dragons have been really tough with all the kilometres they get into the legs, running. The beauty of it is that they flog the hell out of us and then in season we get a lot of time off and freshen up in between games.

"[Pickworth] has got me running the Ks I just didn't think I could do. It has got me fit and at the best weight I have played at. I am playing at 87 or 88 kilos."

That is a far cry from what he weighed at some stages at the Broncos when he was playing dummy-half. It was put to Hunt that he had got up to 91kg at one stage.

"Keep going," he chuckled.

"The heaviest game I think I played at was high 95s. It wasn't pretty, but in saying that I had some good years where I was playing 88 or 89 but I couldn't have done 80 minutes in the middle."

Pickworth's drills and Hunt's application have made the Queensland rake as physically strong as he has ever been and the mental spin-offs have been invaluable in the Origin series.

"I think that is half the battle with playing that game in the middle. You have to tell yourself that you just have to do this," he said.

"There are a lot of guys at our club and others who have I played with that are a hell of a lot of fitter than me but just don't have that mentality that you have to get through it."

If Hunt can add one extra dimension to his game in the series decider at ANZ Stadium it would be to ignite his running game.

"It is definitely hard but in game two I was definitely ready to run. I had the gas to do it. I was just sitting back waiting for an opportunity, looking for a marker down or a quick play-the-ball … but it just wasn't coming," Hunt said.

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"Looking back at the game, and the type of game State of Origin is, everyone defends so well and it is so slow in there [at the ruck] that you have to create your own opportunities."

Maroons skipper Daly Cherry-Evans said he would assist Hunt to run more while making the point that getting momentum through the middle of the park would also be crucial on Wednesday.

"My responsibility is probably some communication, making sure we are nice and clear what our roles are, and that will give Ben Hunt a bit of freedom," Cherry-Evans said.

"Also, we have to get some quick play-the-balls for him. There's no reason for Ben Hunt to get slow play the balls, that's a big part of our game helping Ben get out of dummy half. We all have a role to play in that whether it is pushing up with the ball or getting quick play-the-balls."

Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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