The Courier-Mail

HUNT FOR PREMIERSHI­P HINGES ON RAW HALVES

- UNDER PRESSURE STANDOUT BRONCO STANDOUT COWBOY PAUL MALONE

BEN Hunt has been a starting playmaker in one NRL finals game, which is one more than Anthony Milford.

The Broncos halves have to play three well above-par games to guide their team to the premiershi­p amid the endof-year pressure which Milford has never experience­d.

Even though they have won two of their past six matches, second favouritis­m in premiershi­p betting markets behind Sydney Roosters is about right because Brisbane can have home-ground advantage clear through to grand-final day.

The Broncos have been posted $1.60 favourites to beat the Cowboys on Saturday and clinch a preliminar­y final, again at Suncorp Stadium,

Again, this is about right, given North Queensland’s uneven performanc­es in winning two of their past five, salvaged mainly by the collective power of their forwards and spark of Lachlan Coote.

But a lot of wise decisions have to be made by comparativ­ely inexperien­ced men, starting with Saturday night’s clash with North Queensland, for the Broncos to take out their seventh title.

It’s a big ask for them to deliver that amount of creativity and direction. Unlike his 21year-old mate, Hunt has firsthand experience of finals footy, especially his start against the Cowboys in Townsville in the correspond­ing weekend last year.

The 25-year-old, who has 137 first-grade matches on the clock, was a bench player in Brisbane’s 2012 finals loss in Townsville and in three finals matches in 2011, Darren Lockyer’s last season with the Broncos.

“It’s experience you have to pick up along the way,’’ Hunt told The Courier-Mail.

“(Coach) Wayne (Bennett) has spoken to us about finals football being a different competitio­n altogether.

“You try to learn through the games and keep improving.

“We work on our kicking at each training session – Milf and Macca (Andrew McCullough) … and (assistant coach) Kevin Walters does a lot with us.’’

You know how misty-eyed couples say they will “always have Paris’’?

Milford and Hunt will always have South Sydney, the night they scored five tries between them against the premiers.

Milford was targeted and a little exposed by Melbourne last Thursday, playing without Hunt, who was rested with a cork.

In the first 10 minutes, he knocked on and he kicked out on the full under the pressure of a late tackle, for which Melbourne’s Ryan Hinchcliff­e was penalised. In the 24th minute, he kicked dead, giving Melbourne seven tackles.

It’s not the way a playmaker wants to start an end-ofseason game.

Behind their impressive 2015 statistics together, Hunt’s 2014 season, his first as a starting halfback, produced 13 tries, 19 try assists, 14 line-break assists and 19 line breaks in his 25 games.

Milford started only five matches at five-eighth for Canberra last year.

But his statistics in a wellbeaten team, mostly from fullback, were a broad gesture towards his creativity – 12 tries, 14 try assists, 16 line breaks and 16 line-break assists.

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