Queensland coach Mal Meninga says the NRL finals will provide an ideal chance for hopefuls like Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt to prove their State of Origin readiness.
Meninga is already running the rule over his 2016 Queensland candidates after leading the Maroons to their ninth Origin series win in 10 years.
And he believes the looming NRL premiership campaign will make his job a lot easier.
Hunt has spent time in Origin camp as Queensland’s 18th man and this year was considered as a replacement for an out of sorts Maroons bench utility Daly Cherry-Evans.
He has blossomed under returning Broncos coach Wayne Bennett this year and been the key to keeping Brisbane’s minor premiership hopes alive.
However, Meninga believes the Broncos’ title tilt may prove once and for all whether Hunt is Origin worthy.
Hunt features in a list of Queensland hopefuls Meninga says he will monitor throughout the playoffs.
“At Brisbane, (pivot) Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt have been great this year but I am interested to see if they can take a game by the scruff of the neck when the intensity goes up,” Meninga told Queensland Former Origin Greats website.
“They’ve also got guys like Dale Copley and Corey Oates who are on our radar and keep impressing.
“We know all of these guys are good players but the challenge for them now is to show they can take their game to another level when their team needs to and the quality of the opposition dictates it.
“The finals are another step in their football education and certainly from an Origin point of view, I will be watching them all very closely to see how they handle it.”
One vacancy in a reshuffled Queensland backline already exists with veteran centre Justin Hodges’ retiring at season’s end.
Meninga said among others he would be monitoring were Cronulla back Valentine Holmes, Melbourne fill-in fullback Cameron Munster and Bulldogs playmaker Moses Mbye.
At the Cowboys alone, Meninga has pinpointed Ethan Lowe, Jake Granville, Kyle Feldt and veteran backrower Gavin Cooper, who is “getting so close to an Origin call up”.
“And at the Roosters, I am really looking forward to watching how Jake Friend responds to taking on more responsibility as captain and without Mitchell Pearce in the side,” Meninga said.
“Seeing how they perform in the finals will be like a little test of their Origin capabilities, so I am really looking forward to seeing how they go.
“The challenge for them is to have the consistency in their performance and show that they are genuine big-match players.”