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

@Hayward_AdamK

New St George Illawarra Dragons coach Anthony Griffin has made no guarantees that his highest paid player Ben Hunt will reclaim his preferred number seven jersey next season.

The much maligned $1.2 million man had an inconsistent season in 2020. At halfback, Hunt’s game management was largely ineffective and he lacked confidence and creativity before being switched to five-eighth, where he made no improvement. He was eventually shifted to dummy-half, a position he is more than familiar with and almost instantly proved to be far more potent in attack – yet he still believes halfback is his best position and continues to express his desire to reclaim the Dragons number seven jersey.

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

I wrote an article 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.

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 of that series as bench dummy-half and was instrumental in Queensland avoiding a 3-0 whitewash.

Going back further to 2017 when Hunt was playing for Brisbane; then-Broncos coach Wayne Bennett dropped his underperforming halfback to reserve grade, before eventually being re-called late in the season to cover for an injured Andrew McCullough at hooker, where he played a crucial role in Brisbane reaching the preliminary final that season.

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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.

It would be fair to say Hunt has not lived up to his $1.2 million price tag at the Dragons and you would be lucky to find someone who would disagree, but he still has two years, with the option of a further year in his favour, to make good on his paycheque – just not at halfback.

We have seen the influence Cameron Smith, Josh Hodgson, Damien Cook and Api Koroisau have on their team’s performances from dummy-half and Ben Hunt has the ability to provide for the Dragons what those players provide for their clubs.

He is an eyes-up, ad-lib type player and we have 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 from dummy-half. His creativity around the ruck makes him arguably more dangerous than most other rake’s in the competition.

He is 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, but he is certainly not afraid of the collision with opposition forwards.

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Every time Hunt has donned the nine jersey or played in the dummy-half role, his skill-set flourishes because he is not preoccupied trying to game manage from halfback – which is why he has been selected to play for Queensland and Australia. Partly because of his utility value in being able to cover in the halves, but mostly because of what he brings to those representative sides at dummy-half.

A permanent shift to hooker is not only what I believe is best for Ben Hunt, but also what is best for the struggling Dragons.

Hunt offers more in attack than current rake Cameron McInnes and the Dragons would not lose anything from permanently shifting McInnes to lock-forward. McInnes would still be defending in the middle-third, making his usual 50 tackles per game and he could play the same type of role at lock as Cameron Murray or Victor Radley.

Griffin has challenged Hunt to prioritise hard work, honesty, and leadership if he is to rediscover his best form. So, the onus is squarely on Hunt to turn around what has been a lacklustre tenure as the Dragons’ marquee signing since his arrival in 2018.

An in-form Bent Hunt could be the best dummy-half option for the Dragons bid to return to the finals, but it is up to him to accept that his best days as a halfback are long over and hooker is his best position and where he plays his best football.