SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 31: Ben Hunt of the Dragons and team mates look dejected after a Cowboys try during the round 20 NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the North Queensland Cowboys at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, on July 31, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

St George Illawarra Dragons legend Matt Cooper has urged the club to release Ben Hunt at the end of next season with one year left on his contract.

This comes after Hunt revealed he was now committed to the club and wanted to get back into winning footy games after dropping one of the biggest bombshells of the 2023 season.

In the middle of last season, the halfback asked for a release from the remainder of his playing contract following the sacking of Anthony Griffin as head coach.

While that saga continued to play out through the end of the season, Hunt was eventually told in no uncertain terms that he would be remaining with the club for at least 2024 and has since accepted reality.

The captain was reportedly chasing a return to Queensland, citing homesickness as the reason for departure, and flirted with moves to the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast Titans.

While it looks like Hunt will see out the remainder of his contract, Matt Cooper believes the Dragons should let him go at the end of next season.

"The thing with the Dragons is if they let him go, who have we got to replace him with? So that's the hard thing," Cooper told Wide World of Sports.

"I personally feel like Flanno should be looking at a replacement for the second year and maybe that's the compromise they do with Ben is say, 'All right, you play next year and we'll give you the last year. We'll let you go for that last year' – but Flanno needs to find someone in that year.

"They'll have the money because if they let Ben go they're gonna have money up their sleeve – and so I feel like that's Flanno's job, is to start building a team now for 2025. I feel like next year is going to be obviously a bit different because you've got Flanno in there, you know he'll make a change.

"If they said that to Ben, I think Ben would be happy. I think he'd go, 'Okay, I'll put in a good year at the Dragons and then I'll go play my last year in Brisbane'. Will Ben be happy with that? Probably. Maybe. There's a lot of factors.

"Is Ben gonna be happy with that? Is that what Flan would do? And who's the replacement? I think that's probably the best way they could go about it. Because if they go, 'All right Ben, you can go next year' the Dragons are gonna be stuck. It's too late to get a top half right now for next season."

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 27: Ben Hunt of the Maroons offloads the ball during game two of the 2021 State of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and the New South Wales Blues at Suncorp Stadium on June 27, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Despite Cooper declaring that the Dragons have limited choices to choose from as their new halfback, he admitted that the club will need to find a replacement for 2026 at a minimum.

The club have been linked to playmakers Tom Dearden and Jarome Luai in the past, but it doesn't look like they will be recruiting either of them.

Other players off-contract at the end of next season they could recruit in the halves include the likes of Adam Doueihi, Luke Keary, Toby Sexton, Thomas Weaver, Luke Metcalf and Chad Townsend.

However, if they are looking for a young playmaker to lead them into the future, they may have to wait until November 1 next year.

At this time, young sensations such as Lachlan Ilias, Ethan Strange, Sam Walker, Ronald Volkman, Jonah Pezet, Brad Schneider and Tanah Boyd will be free agents.

"I'm sure there's someone out there," Cooper added of the Dragons' options.

"There's always the next Nathan Cleary or the next Ben Hunt, they're out there. He could be 18. That'll be a job for Flan and the recruitment department of the Dragons.

"If they get it right, 2025 will be a great year. Hopefully I'll be in there helping out.

"Flanno will probably be able to bring in more coaches that he wants because like I said, there's a lot of coaching staff on one-year contracts.

"Hopefully Flanno will get a good feel of the team and then pick his coaching staff for that 2025 year."