Australian rugby league coach Tim Sheens will continue to hold Ben Hunt as the ace up his sleeve for the rest of the Four Nations but with one caveat: he can’t promise the Brisbane star he will play.
Hunt has emerged as the Kangaroos’ X-Factor ahead of Sunday’s must-win clash with Samoa in Wollongong after a match-winning effort in last week’s win over England in Melbourne.
After a stellar season in the No.7 with the Broncos, Hunt sparked a Kangaroos revival from the bench in his Test debut to keep Australia’s Four Nations hopes alive.
With Daly Cherry-Evans taking over a starting spot in the Kangaroos’ halves alongside Cooper Cronk – in the absence of injured Johnathan Thurston – Hunt has taken over the Manly No.7’s utility role on the Australian bench, which often comes with an asterisk.
Cherry-Evans was only thrust into the action in the 77rd minute by Sheens in Australia’s 30-18 win over New Zealand in the Anzac Test in May.
That came after he spent the entire 80 minutes on the pine in the Kangaroos’ 20-12 win over the Kiwis in Auckland in 2012.
“Ben’s role is to cover Cameron (Smith) and the halves and also, if we have any other issue, Daly can fill in a couple of positions in the side,” Sheens said.
“Ben did well last week, he bounced into the game at the right time and it just worked. I can’t say that will happen this particular time.
“Daly has sat there and got five minutes in a Test and some time didn’t get any in another.
“So you don’t know and, unfortunately for that particular utility, he doesn’t know.
“He could go on early or he might not go on at all or somewhere in between.
“Ben is happy to be in the squad, he understands that, he has trained in positions he needs to and is ready to go if there is an issue. But if the ‘spine’ is playing well and the game is tight, it is very hard to replace someone.”
Sheens remains wary after the first-half loss of Cherry-Evans and Greg Inglis upset the balance in the Australian side in their 30-12 loss to New Zealand two weeks ago and the early departure of Beau Scott in last week’s 16-12 win over England did likewise.
“We have found out in the first game when we lost the fullback, and Daly in the first half, it is not easy to replace those,” Sheens said.
“So we have worked hard to try and come up with the right combination.”
Sheens paid tribute to Samoa’s impressive efforts in the tournament so far, a 32-26 loss to England and a 14-12 defeat to the Kiwis.
“It is the best fourth nation, if you want to put it that way, that we have seen play since I have been involved since ’09,” he said.
Kangaroos Skipper Smith concurred.
“The Samoans have been very good throughout the whole tournament,” he said.
“We have been really impressed with the way they have played.
“They were really unlucky to go down against England and unlucky not to beat the Kiwis over there last week.
“They are a team full of great players. If we don’t play well tomorrow, we will be looking down the barrel of a loss.”