WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 13: Ben Hunt of the Dragons runs the ball during the round six NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Cronulla Sharks at WIN Stadium on April 13, 2018 in Wollongong, Australia. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Based on form, the Dragons halfback is worth more than St Illawarra appear willing to offer.

There is a strong possibility that St George-Illawarra’s Ben Hunt will win the Dally M Medal in 2022.

The 32-year-old led the count when voting went behind closed doors after round twelve, holding a two and three-point lead over Isaah Yeo and Nicho Hynes respectively.

Hunt will have tallied more points on the run home, with Hynes potentially the main danger after steering the Sharks through their current winning run that has seen Cronulla win nine of its last ten matches.

No matter the result, it has been a superb season by Hunt for both club and state, with the Rockhampton-born utility now eying off World Cup selection and on form, he will mostly likely be one of the first men chosen in the squad that travels to England in October.

However, despite a potential win in the medal and stellar form deserving of a crisp new contract signed on terms with which he is happy, Hunt could well be suiting up in something other than the Red V in 2023.

With the Dragons looking for growth and valuing the talented youth they have on the books, as they eye the future and a return to semi-final play that has been beyond them since 2018, Hunt is increasingly appearing as a much lesser priority.

Reports have emerged low-ball offer of $700,000 thrown Hunt’s way and also of the players’ desire to have some certainty that Anthony Griffin would be at the helm for at least the length of his next contract.

NRL Rd 1 - Dragons v Sharks
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 14: Dragons head coach Anthony Griffin speaks to the media during the round one NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Cronulla Sharks at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, on March 14, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The club appear to have rejected the latter and the dangerous financial game they are playing in terms of offering a player who may well be crowned the best in the game for 2022 such a low figure, reeks of a contentedness to see Hunt walk.

If St George Illawarra are thinking of that at board level, they may well be committing themselves to another year of ponderous play and gifting one of the most effective halfbacks/hookers to an opposition club for 2023.

There is a distinct possibility that that decision will come back to bite them on the behind, with whoever the new Dragons number seven may be, expected to fill shoes that are simply impossible to fill considering their skill set.

The Broncos, despite sputtering their way towards the finals, proved the value of signing an instrumental half-back with the acquisition of Adam Reynolds for 2022, North Queensland did precisely the same by bringing Chad Townsend to the club. Mitchell Moses’ influence at Parramatta and the maturity he now brings to the halfback role has silenced the critics of years past and Nathan Cleary, Daly Cherry-Evans and Nicho Hynes would also be included in the elite group of halves that are worth every cent they are paid.

The Titans, Tigers, Bulldogs, Warriors and Raiders would give plenty to have a creative and polished seven, with the absence of one a direct cause of their inconsistency.

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Should the Dragons refuse to budge on wage and not offer Hunt the $800,000 to $850,000 that he rightfully deserves, they will be pushing him out the door and potentially handing him on a silver platter to Wayne Bennett at the Dolphins.

Whilst there may be some method in what does appear on the outside to be madness, I am reminded of Benji-Marshall’s final throws in the NRL in 2021 under Bennett and the way the master coach used him effectively both on and off the field.

Dolphins Media Opportunity
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 27: Wayne Bennett poses for a photo with the revealing of the Dolphins Heritage jersey and a new sponsor in Kings Adventure during a Dolphins NRL press conference at Suncorp Stadium on October 27, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Despite many wondering what Bennett could see in a 36-year-old Marshall, he proved a valuable and experienced asset that helped the Bunnies reach the season decider. As 32, Hunt could well be destined to play a similar role wherever he does play in 2023; guiding and educating younger halves and establishing a succession plan that avoids the dip in performance that sometimes occurs when a key player retires or departs the club.

That is what Craig Bellamy has done astutely in Melbourne for so long.

If the Dragons’ heels dig further into the ground, Hunt will be playing elsewhere in 2024, perhaps with a Dally M Medal in his hands and a contract befitting of his worth.

2 COMMENTS

  1. ” Despite many wondering what Bennett could see in a 36-year-old Marshall, he proved a valuable and experienced asset that helped the Bunnies reach the season decider. ”

    The situation at St George is quite different to that at Souths. Souths in 2021 was a club that already had the strength and depth to be competitive. Benji was the icing on the cake. He wasn’t hired to play 24 matches a season. He was there as quality cover for Reynolds and Walker.

    St George does not look like a top eight team, let alone one capable of being competitive in the finals. Ben Hunt has kept them respectable in 2022, but I cannot identify any credible “younger halves” that Ben can educate and develop into replacements.

    More to the point, Ben will have to play 24 matches a season if St George is not going to drop further down the table. St George does not have the luxury of operating him in the “Benji at Souths” mode.

  2. In January 2021 Benji approached Wayne for a coaching job, not a playing job.

    According to Michael Chammas (https://www.smh.com.au/sport/nrl/got-a-job-for-me-phone-call-that-reunited-benji-and-bennett-at-souths-20210127-p56x8z.html)

    “For Marshall, however, this isn’t about the money. If it was, he would have taken up the $750,000 contract new Hull FC coach and former grand final teammate Brett Hodgson offered him to play in the Super League this year. He also stood to earn almost double in media contracts alone if he had decided to retire.
    The Rabbitohs have filled the final spot in their squad with a bargain buy, with Marshall set to earn less than half of the $300,000 contract he had with the Wests Tigers last year.”

    Benji wasn’t signed as a big money marquee player. He was signed as a $150K super-sub. Completely different situation to Ben Hunt.

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