NRL: Ben Hunt needs to accept his best position is hooker

@Hayward_AdamK

The chopping and changing to the St George Illawarra Dragons spine in the attempt to reinvigorate their attack, sees Ben Hunt shifted back to dummy half for their round 14 clash against the Parramatta Eels.  

If you compare his stints in the halves and at hooker, Hunt’s game management has been ineffective and he has lacked creativity at halfback but has proven far more potent in attack while playing at dummy half, yet he still believes halfback is his best position and continues to express his desire to reclaim the Dragons number seven jersey.

From my observation, his form as a halfback has been inconsistent at best since guiding the Brisbane Broncos to the 2015 grand final.

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I wrote an article almost two years ago, questioning whether halfback was his best position after his sub-par performances in games one and two of the 2018 State of Origin series.

Hunt was fortunate to be given the first crack in the seven jersey after the representative retirements of Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston, and the pressure he was under to lead Queensland into a new era and continue the dynasty was enormous.

For those who can remember game two, the defining moment of that series was late in the second half with Queensland trailing by four, New South Wales were down to 12 men and defending their own goal-line when Hunt inexplicably kicked the ball dead on the third tackle of the set which ultimately caused Queensland to lose momentum and any chance of winning the game and keeping the series alive.

His inability to deliver in clutch moments resulted in Hunt losing his Queensland Maroons halfback spot to Daly Cherry-Evans – before playing most of game three as bench dummy-half and was instrumental in Queensland winning that game.

Looking back further to 2017, then-Broncos coach Wayne Bennett dropped Hunt to reserve grade, before being re-called to cover for an injured Andrew McCullough at hooker and he was crucial in Brisbane reaching the preliminary final that season.

Since then, it is glaringly obvious that Hunt has continued to struggle with the responsibilities of game management and the expectations of producing the right plays during critical moments of games as the chief playmaker.

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It’s fair to say he has not lived up to his $1.2 million price tag at the Dragons and you’d be lucky to find someone who would disagree, but he still has three years to make good on his paycheque – just not at halfback.

We’ve seen the influence Cameron Smith and Josh Hodgson have on their team’s performances from dummy-half, and it would be fair to say most other clubs would happily pay $1.2 million for either of them.

Ben Hunt has the ability to provide for the Dragons what Smith and Hodgson provide for their clubs.

He’s an eyes-up, ad-lib type player and we’ve seen what he can do from hooker. He provides quality service with a crisp pass, a strong ball runner who is quick off the mark and has a pinpoint kicking game. His creativity around the ruck makes him arguably more dangerous than most other rake’s in the competition.

He’s pretty tough defending in the middle-third as well. The change of positions means he will need to make a few more tackles and fine-tune his tackling technique, he’s certainly not afraid of the collision with opposition forwards.

Every time Hunt has donned the nine jersey or played in the dummy-half role, his skill-set flourishes because he’s not preoccupied trying to game manage from halfback – which is why he’s been selected to play hooker for Queensland and Australia.

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And the move to hooker is not only what I believe is best for Ben Hunt, it is also what’s best for the struggling Dragons.

He offers more in attack than current rake Cameron McInnes and the Dragons wouldn’t lose anything from shifting McInnes to lock-forward. He’d still be defending in the middle-third, making his usual 50 tackles per game and he could play the same type of role Cameron Murray plays for Souths.

In regards to Hunt’s spot in the Queensland and Australian representative teams, it might be in his best interest to play hooker full-time and prove to selectors why he is the best man for that role.

He may not unseat Damien Cook for the Australian nine jersey, but a spot on the bench would definitely be up for grabs. His position in the Maroons side is also looking precarious, with regular dummy-halves Jake Friend, Reed Mahoney and rookie Harry Grant all breathing down his neck looking to steal his spot.

An in-form Bent Hunt could still be the best dummy-half option for Queensland, but it’s up to him to accept that his best days as a halfback are long over and hooker is his best position.