Ben­nett: give Joe a go for Qld

Daily Mercury - - SPORT - — Peter Badel

RUGBY LEAGUE: Wayne Ben­nett says Joe Ofa­hen­gaue is ready for State of Ori­gin af­ter watch­ing the Bron­cos prop pro­duce a bru­tal form surge amid the most har­row­ing or­deal of his rugby league career.

As Ofa­hen­gaue’s part­ner wages a bat­tle with breast can­cer, the Bronco will con­tinue his quest for a maiden Queens­land jumper in to­mor­row night’s clash against the Sharks in Syd­ney.

The Ma­roons team for Ori­gin II is named on Mon­day and Ofa­hen­gaue has emerged as a game two bench bolter af­ter charg­ing for a to­tal of 1097m in his past nine matches for the Bron­cos.

If any­one is qual­i­fied to as­sess an Ori­gin player, it is Ben­nett. He served three terms as Queens­land coach, mas­ter­mind­ing the side’s first 3-0 clean sweep of NSW in 1988.

With Queens­land on the hunt for size and ag­gres­sion af­ter a mid­field maul­ing in the MCG opener, Ben­nett be­lieves Ofa­hen­gaue’s 114kg frame and fit­ness can make him the Ma­roons’ in­ter­change X-fac­tor.

Queens­land coach Kevin Wal­ters will be at South­ern Cross Group Sta­dium to­mor­row night when Ofa­hen­gaue con­fronts Cronulla’s Ori­gin for­ward quar­tet An­drew Fi­fita, Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis and Wade Gra­ham.

“Joe would han­dle Ori­gin,” Ben­nett said.

“If his form has been good in the NRL, he’s been do­ing it at club level against NSW Ori­gin play­ers so that’s good enough for me to get into Ori­gin.”

The best form of Ofa­hen­gaue’s 59-game NRL career has co­in­cided with the heart­break of his long-time girl­friend Sofi Leota re­ceiv­ing a can­cer di­ag­no­sis in April.

Ofa­hen­gaue has used Leota’s brave bat­tle as in­spi­ra­tion not to waste an NRL career that threat­ened to go off the rails when he was over­looked for Bron­cos selec­tion for the first two months of last sea­son.

Ben­nett said Ofa­hen­gaue’s form re­ver­sal could be at­trib­uted to feel­ing part of the team.

“He just needed time to feel he was part of the team. I’m re­ally pleased for him,” he said.

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