Ben Hunt has one of the biggest contracts in the NRL and some weeks it looks like every cent of that $6 million is hanging around his neck.
- The Warriors beat the St George Illawarra Dragons 18-0 in their first game back after the coronavirus-forced break
- Ben Hunt was injured with a corked leg and struggled for much of the game
- Former State of Origin hooker Michael Ennis suggested moving Hunt from halfback to the bench to ease the load on him
That seemed to be the case as the halfback struggled in the Dragons’ 18-0 loss to the Warriors in their return to rugby league after a two-month-long sabbatical forced by coronavirus.
St George Illawarra finished just 34 of their 41 sets, made to look worse by the Warriors’ gargantuan 46/48 effort, and made at least nine errors.
The Dragons’ attack barely troubled the Warriors and on the few occasions when it did, a dropped ball, wayward kick or mistimed pass was not far away.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor said “the intensity that we’ve trained at is not transferring to game day”, although a training run is a pretty decent description of the game the Dragons played.
On Fox Sports after the game, former superstar halfback Cooper Cronk criticised Hunt and five-eighth Corey Norman’s ability to adapt to the game that was in front of them, suggesting the team appeared to be going through the motions.
Hunt spent most of the game hobbled by a corked shin. But as the team’s halfback and million-dollar man, all eyes are on him every time he sets foot on the field.
Since finishing in the top five of Dally M voting with the Broncos in 2014 and 2015, Hunt has looked a shadow of his former self.
He struggled in Brisbane after a confidence-sapping performance in the 2015 grand final and things have not improved much since being bought by the Dragons for a hefty price tag prior to the 2018 season.
Hunt has run hot and cold in red and white but remains a regular in Test and State of Origin sides, albeit in different positions.
‘They don’t have time to worry about what they’re paying him’: Ennis
The Dragons boast one of the league’s best hookers in Cameron McInnes, so there are not too many opportunities in the starting side, leading former New South Wales dummy half Michael Ennis to propose a bold solution.
“I think it would be great for Ben Hunt and for his confidence to be allowed to grow if he got taken out of that number seven jersey,” he said on Fox.
“The role that he can play for the Dragons is to play in that number 14 jersey and maybe put Corey Norman at halfback.”
Ennis, himself a former Dragon and Bronco, said the contract that was signed could not be a factor in where Hunt plays.
The situation has become so fraught that former Maroons coach Mal Meninga even suggested shifting Hunt to fullback, a position he has never played.
McGregor, whose employment status is under similarly constant speculation, said his team often “looked like strangers out there” and said they “didn’t play with any composure” at the pointy end of the field.
He said the “passion, excitement and competitiveness needs to be shown by everyone” and it is hard to see how the team won’t make changes after the performance against a Warriors side that seemed at home with the new pace of play.
Similarly, last year’s runners up, the Canberra Raiders, were on fire as they ran through an out-of-sorts Melbourne Storm side in the late game on Saturday night, winning 22-6.
In a rematch of last year’s qualifying final, the Raiders were two classes above the Storm and played electric football on the back of their English stars, hooker Josh Hodgson and new halfback George Williams.
The Wests Tigers beat the Cronulla Sharks 28-16 in the other game at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday afternoon.