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Big contract shows Dragons are on the hunt to be competitive

Ben Hunt - falling upwards into an Origin jersey. (AAP Image/ Action Photographics, Colin Whelan)
Roar Guru
23rd January, 2017
7

The St George Illawarra Dragons’ six-million-dollar deal with Ben Hunt is a clear indication of how far behind the eight-ball the team is ahead of the 2017 season.

In fact, they’ve been on the decline since they fell apart half way through the 2011 season.

Wayne Bennett turned what I considered an alright line-up into a defensive force from 2009-11. Outside of Brett Morris, Mark Gasnier (upon his return) and to a lesser extent Matt Cooper, the team lacked out and out superstars.

Bennett achieved ‘overs’ from the likes of Jamie Soward, Dean Young, Michael Weyman and several others. Even Darius Boyd only came into his own once moved into the custodian position.

This side proved unstoppable at times and a lot of their success can be attributed to the fact they had a ‘supercoach’ calling the shots.

Steve Price and current coach Paul McGregor haven’t been able to see the same results.

The last five years have been pretty disappointing for the Dragons faithful, the only exception being the 2015 team who overachieved by making the first week of the finals.

Recent times have seen the Dragons lose key marquee players such as Brett Morris and Trent Merrin without uncovering suitable replacements. They have also failed to lure stars to their club with countless players choosing other options.

While the club does seem to have some promising juniors coming through, headlined by Luciano Leilua, they need high-quality, experienced players to guide them. Just ask the young Newcastle Knights players.

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Josh Dugan and Tyson Frizell are genuine superstars and you can even throw Gareth Widdop in there as well despite his sub-par form in 2016. But they need more to become a genuine premiership threat.

Desperate times often call for desperate measures and that’s what brings me to Ben Hunt, with the Dragons basically writing him a blank cheque to come south of the border in 2018.

Now don’t get me wrong, this could be a masterstroke, as in top form Hunt could be a revelation.

Yet, it could also go the other way and Hunt could struggle away from the familiar surroundings of Red Hill.

Hunt took me by surprise a few years ago when he was handed the Broncos’ number seven jersey. I even wrote early in the 2014 season that the Broncos would struggle without a regular halfback.

Broncos player Ben Hunt passes the ball as Johnathan Thurston tries to tackle him

I figured that nearing his mid-20s after five years playing off the bench, if he had it as a halfback, another club would have picked him up a long time ago.

How wrong I was. Hunt was phenomenal in 2014 and 2015, stamping himself as a top quality half.

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The main risk that the Dragons are taking is that they are not the Brisbane Broncos.

In Wollongong, Hunt won’t be surrounded by internationals and State of Origin regulars. There will no longer be Sam Thaiday, Josh McGuire, Corey Parker, Adam Blair and Alex Glenn to run off the back of.

The Dragons pack is quite weak at the moment and Hunt only has to look at Manly’s 2016 season to see how much pressure can be put on a million dollar a year halfback playing with a weaker pack of forwards.

The Dragons have been widely predicted to finish in the lower half of the ladder in 2017.

Hunt is a step in the right direction for the years to come.

Yet for him to even have half a chance of taking the club back to their glory days, the Dragons better hope to uncover or recruit some top quality forwards to help Frizell, and set the platform for Hunt to work with from 2018 onwards.

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