FORMER Parramatta great Brett Kenny believes Ben Hunt's efforts off the bench in his two Four Nations Tests suggest he could pinch the Australian No.7 jumper off fellow Queenslander Cooper Cronk next year.
As critics lined-up to dissect Australia's 22-18 Four Nations loss to New Zealand at the weekend, which some experts suggest has put Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens' position on the line, Kenny said he believed Cronk's position was also under threat from the rapidly improving Hunt.
Playing behind a rolling forward pack that again dominated a weakened Australia six, Kiwi halves Shaun Johnson, who won man-of-the-match honours in the final, and five-eighth Kieran Foran, clearly outplayed Cronk and Daly Cherry-Evans.
Hunt scored a try in each of his two Tests when he came off the bench, and Kenny, who played 265 games and won four premierships with the Eels, said he believed the Broncos playmaker could force his way into the starting job next year, especially with master coach Wayne Bennett back in Brisbane to put the polish on Hunt's game.
Kenny also said Australia would find it tough going against its trans-Tasman rivals for years to come, with Johnson and Foran having forged such a great combination.
"Those guys are going to be around for a long time," he said.
"New Zealand is in the position we used to be in when we had Johnathan Thurston and Darren Lockyer. Even before them we always had great halves who played for Australian for long periods.
"Every year if it wasn't the same halves from the previous year, it was the start of a new combination and they went for four or five years.
"They (New Zealand) have got that now."
Kenny said while the domination by the Kiwi forwards made life tough for the Aussie halves, it could be time to "have a good look at a bloke like Ben Hunt".
"I thought when he came on against England in the previous Test he set the game alight. He certainly looks like a future halfback for Australia and Queensland.
"He's had a good grounding and is ready go to the next level. Having Wayne Bennett coaching will add even more to his game, although Cronk won't give up his jumper easily."
Kenny conceded coach Tim Sheens had faced a tough challenge with so many front-line players missing.
"For years we've been saying we could put our second and third-best teams out there and still win. Well, New Zealand has proven that we can't," he said.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.