Harry Grant lauded as long-term Qld No.9

He could have barely played this year but Harry Grant will finish a surreal season touted as Queensland’s solution at hooker for the next decade.

The 22-year-old capped a remarkable 2020 with a game-turning debut off the bench in Queensland’s 20-14 defeat of New South Wales in Wednesday’s State of Origin decider in Brisbane.

The No.9 probed effectively and snuck through for the decisive try, validating Wayne Bennett’s gutsy call to promote him ahead of tried and tested utility Ben Hunt in the decider.

Stuck behind Cameron Smith and Brandon Smith at Melbourne, Grant made the most of a player swap with Wests Tigers to win Dally M and RLPA rookie of the year and earn a spot in Maroons’ camp.

Not selected until the final game, Grant made 26 tackles, two line breaks and constantly poked holes in the Blues’ defence.

His 56-minute performance prompted former Queensland coach and player Paul Vautin to declare the No.9 jersey his for “the next eight to 10 years”.

“He’s 22; We saw what he did tonight when he came on,” he said in commentary.

“Just brilliant. He virtually turned the game.”

Grant has fond memories of Origin growing up in Rockhampton but said he wouldn’t get ahead of himself after a whirlwind season.

“Going to school on a Thursday, when Queensland won it was a pretty good feeling, so that was always in the back of the mind,” he said.

“It’s pretty surreal, the best feeling … something I’ll remember forever.

“I can’t thank Melbourne Storm and Wests Tigers enough for the opportunity … if I did stay in Melbourne (behind hookers Cameron Smith and Brandon Smith) I wouldn’t have played much footy and definitely wouldn’t have been here.”

Bennett was careful to give starting No.9 Jake Friend credit too, the pair even playing together as the Maroons hung on in the final minutes.

“He was very good, but Jake did a lot of work for the first 25 minutes,” Bennett said.

“He was what we needed, that’s the reason we did what we did (replacing Hunt to provide more spark on the bench) and he did that magnificently.”

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Australia’s most lauded amateur boxer Justis Huni makes debut on same card as future opponent Jai Opetaia

It’s rare to have this much hype around a fighter.

On Thursday night, Australia will get a glimpse not only of our best boxing gold medal chance at next year’s Olympics in rising star Justis Huni, but likely the biggest heavyweight showdown between two locals.

While Huni is making his professional debut on the undercard to Jai Opetaia’s cruiserweight rematch against Ben Kelleher in Brisbane, moves are already afoot to stage a mega-fight between Huni and Opetaia within two years.

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The pair spar together and have world title ambitions, but the unbeaten Opetaia wants to clean out the cruiserweight division before stepping up to heavyweight, where presumably Huni will have established himself as a global star.

“When that fight does happen, it will be the biggest fight in Australia,” Opetaia said.

“I reckon me and this guy can create history.

“But in saying that, I’ve got a lot of boxes to tick in the cruiserweight division first, and he’s got a lot of boxes to tick in the heavyweight division.

“We’ve still got a big journey ahead of us before that fight does happen, but it’s awesome we get to make history together.”

Huni makes his professional debut amid a backdrop of expectation that he will become Australia’s greatest-ever heavyweight.

At 21, he is attempting to create history by winning a national title in his first pro bout by defeating Australian heavyweight champion Faiga “Django” Opelu (13-1-1, 10KO).

Under Olympic regulations, boxers are allowed to have up to 10 professional bouts and still compete in the Games as an amateur.

After COVID-19 cancelled the 2020 Tokyo Games, Huni decided he would move to the pro ranks before attempting to win a gold medal next year if the revised Games go ahead.

He is a 190cm giant with the footwork and speed of a lightweight; leading several veteran boxing experts to declare Huni the best prospect Australia has seen since the emergence of Kostya Tszyu and Jeff Fenech.

Having already declared his ambition of unifying the heavyweight division, Huni lacks in neither confidence nor skill, and is ready for the eventual showdown with Opetaia.

“When the fight does happen, it will be something special for Australia and the world to see,” Huni said.

“It’s good to see two Polynesian boys out of Australia going all the way to the top.”

Opetaia (19-0, 15KO), who defeated Kelleher via technical knockout in 2018, plans to make quick work of his rival in the rematch and then fight again in late November as he surges towards a world title – he is ranked No.4 by the IBF and No.10 by the WBO.

Based in NSW’s Central Coast, 25-year-old Opetaia is working with Samoa Tourism to promote travel to the island nation when COVID-19 regulations allow.

“I’m bummed because I wanted to go there for a training camp, Justis wants to go, too, hopefully we can get there as soon as the restrictions lift, it’s a beautiful country,” Opetaia said.

*Huni v Opelu and Opetaia v Kelleher 2 will be shown live on Fox Sports 505 and Kayo on Thursday from 7pm AEDT

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