Broncos hooker Ben Hunt eyes NRL finals battle with Cameron Smith

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Ben Hunt says he is learning more every game he plays at hooker but knows the education will be fast-tracked against the man he rates the best No. 9 to play the game.

Ben Hunt of the Broncos

Ben Hunt of the Broncos

Source: Getty

The Brisbane star was influential in the side's 13-6 defeat of Penrith on Friday night at Suncorp Stadium.

He registered a career-high 44 tackles to rally the Broncos' under-fire defence, regularly fronting up in the middle against the big Panthers pack.

The Queensland utility said it was another improvement since replacing injured Andrew McCullough in round 22.

"My fitness has got better every week and just my defence - I was missing more tackles to start off with - but I'm just getting in front of blokes, trying to make good contact," he said.

Hunt's 80-minute effort drew praise from coach Wayne Bennett, who started the 27-year-old from the bench when he first took over the hooking duties.

"He reckons he wasn't tired when he came off (at full-time), he wanted to go again," the coach said.

"He was outstanding but he had a whole team that supported him, they all did their duty."

Hunt's Broncos now face a preliminary final against Melbourne led by the NRL's most capped man in Cameron Smith.

"He's the best hooker of all time but there'll be a good focus on not just him, the whole side," Hunt said.

"I know he steers them around but they're pretty good across the park."

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 20:  Cameron Smith of the Storm runs with the ball during the round 24 NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Melbourne Storm at Brookvale Oval on August 20, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Cameron Smith of the Storm runs with the ball against the Manly during an NRL match at Brookvale in Sydney, Australia.

Source: Getty

Heading to St George next season on a big money six-year deal, Hunt was proud of his last effort in Broncos colours in Brisbane.

"I just wanted to play my best tonight ... my last game at Suncorp, I didn't want to leave here a loser," he said.

Melbourne have won all but four of their past 23 games against Brisbane, who are managing a host of injury concerns ahead of the AAMI Park clash.

"Tonight it was a gutsy effort; from 1 though 17 everyone just dug deep," Hunt said of the energy-sapping contest.

"And we're going to have to (keep doing it)."

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