In 2017, the St George Illawarra Dragons led the competition for 8 rounds with Gareth Widdop the form player in the NRL.
By seasons end, they had fallen out of contention finishing a disappointing 9th. Other teams had worked out that if Widdop could be shut down, the Dragons would struggle to be a threat in attack.
In 2018, Ben Hunt joins from the Brisbane Broncos on a five-year multi-million dollar deal. Hunt has been identified as the man to lead the Dragons back to Premiership glory.
A gifted halfback, Hunt was named NYC Player of the Year on the way to winning the inaugural NYC Cup in 2008. He made his debut for the Broncos in 2009 and strangely having been such a dominant NYC cup halfback Hunt was used sparingly as a bench player, mostly as hooker.
Hunt played 183 games for Brisbane including the 2015 Grand Final. A game he would rather forget. How Hunt has been able to put the pain and doubts away to continue on and become an Origin and Kangaroo representative is a testimony to the Broncos organisation and to his own mental strength. Other players may have been destroyed by it.
Hunt comes to the Dragons to partner Gareth Widdop in the halves and it will be their ability to be a double threat in attack that will ensure coach Paul McGregor's talented team fulfil their potential and become genuine Premiership contenders.
Joining Hunt in the Red V is England international James Graham and he looks pumped for a big year. Both Hunt and Graham add to what is a very good squad, which in reality, underperformed in 2017.
The new spine in 2018 will also add exciting prospect Matt Duffty at fullback, along with 2017 break out star Cameron McInness at hooker. On inspection, it looks as good as any in the competition.
They will be led up front in the forwards by James Graham, Paul Vaughn, Tariq Sims and Jack de Bellin and Tyson Frizell. Out wide they have Tim Lafai, Nene MacDonald and utility Kurt Mann.
With such a talented forward pack, Ben Hunt's job to lead the Dragons around the park and work in tandem with Widdop in attack will be made easier. Hunt and Widdop's partnership needs to gel for the Dragons to be a Top 8 contender. If either is not available during the season, Kurt Mann has shown he is capable in multiple roles. Young half Jai Field has also shown his potential and with a full off season with the top grade he has put on the necessary bulk required for NRL.
The Dragons face the Broncos, Sharks, Titans, Knights and Rabbitohs over the first five rounds. A great test first up.
Hunt is a great signing for the Dragons where he will add control and game management and be a threat in attack. If they can get through the first five games with some wins and injury free, it will set the season up for success.
If they stumble early, it may lead to too much pressure on coach Paul McGegor and Ben Hunt from the fans. The Dragons fans want success and they will not put up with another mediocre season knowing the player talent they have. Hunt in particular will need to justify his huge salary or he will be enemy number 1 to the Red V army.
I predict both McGregor and Hunt will be safe from the scorn of hostile fans and the Dragons will be a success in 2018. They have a team that should challenge for a Top 4 finish and potential to win the competition. A major reason for there improvement will be Ben Hunt. Any questions around his huge salary will be silenced.
Ben Hunt: great buy or very expensive bust?