Despite another Daly Cherry-Evans misfire, Justin Hodges says the time is not yet right for Brisbane teammate Ben Hunt’s State of Origin call-up.
Broncos playmaker Hunt is arguably the NRL’s form halfback and had been expected to put pressure on Cherry-Evans to keep his Queensland spot for July 8’s Origin decider in Brisbane.
Cherry-Evans was again disappointing filling in for Cooper Cronk (knee) at halfback in Queensland’s 26-18 Origin II loss in Melbourne last week.
With Cronk set to make a miraculous return for Origin III, an out-of-sorts Cherry-Evans had been expected to vie with Hunt for the Maroons bench utility spot at Suncorp Stadium.
But Queensland veteran centre Hodges did not believe his Broncos teammate was in the Origin mix just yet.
“Hunty’s time will come and I’m sure if he keeps playing the way he is at the Broncos, his time won’t be too far away,” he said.
“(And) when you’re talking about halves, you’ve got the best halves in the comp in Coops and JT (pivot Johnathan Thurston).”
However, Hodges has embraced speculation Newcastle flyer Dane Gagai will feature in a Maroons backline, rejigged after the loss of fullback Billy Slater (shoulder).
Greg Inglis is expected to wear the No.1 jersey, with Will Chambers slotting into the centres and Gagai to make his Origin debut on the wing.
Gagai will be on the right wing alongside the experienced Hodges, who will make his Origin swansong in Origin III in hometown Brisbane.
“He’s been one of the best centres running around each week and he’s a guy that doesn’t lack confidence,” Hodges – a 22-game Origin veteran – said of Gagai.
“He came into camp game two last week and he knows everyone and I’m sure when he gets his call-up next week he’s going to come in and do a great job.”
Another Queensland backline vacancy will emerge next year.
Hodges will retire from representative football at season’s end but is yet to make a final call on his playing career.
“I’ll know when it is over. That is for you to find out,” Hodges smiled.