St George Illawarra Dragons coach Anthony Griffin declares reinvigorated Ben Hunt is at the 'peak' of his powers Anthony Griffin has played a pivotal role in reviving Ben Hunt but believes the ultra-tough Dragons halfback is on the cusp of something even more special ahead of the new season. Hailing from the same hometown in Rockhampton, plus having helped develop him at Brisbane and handed him his NRL debut over a decade ago, Griffin knows Hunt better than most. It's why, in the face of many raised eyebrows, one of the first of many of Griffin's big calls upon being appointed Dragons coach ahead of the 2021 season was to name Hunt club captain.
When many feared the extra responsibility would plague Hunt's confidence even more, Griffin showed the belief in his struggling halfback that no one else would – and it paid off. While the 31-year-old's body failed him, managing just 15 games after breaking his arm and leg through the year, Hunt looked a different player under Griffin to the one whose form was so poor he had been dropped from the starting side 12 months prior under Paul McGregor.
Running the ball, calling the shots, kicking to space and pushing his body to the utter limit, Hunt regained a wave of respect with the way he performed in 2021. Only the powers above know how the Dragons' season would've panned out if they were able to get a full season with their fearless skipper on the park.
Griffin has watched Hunt's career transformation from a "chubby little hooker" who would "waddle around and play 20 minutes in the middle of the game" to being within seconds of becoming a premiership-winning No. 7 for the Broncos in 'that' 2015 grand final, and the fall from grace that came after his $1 million move to St. George Illawarra in 2018. But the experienced mentor always had faith in Hunt as a leader, saying the captaincy was the ace up his sleeve to unlock his main playmaker. "The only thing I would say about Ben, and I've known him a long time, is he's the teammate you want," Griffin said of Hunt. "He's an honest person, he's a great teammate, he's a tough competitor."
2022 will present Hunt's leadership with entirely new challenges. While he'll be eager to get his body through a full season, all eyes will be on how the Dragons skipper helps nurture the club's exciting young crop of junior talent, who are expected to form a key part of Griffin's side. Based on his observations of Hunt behind closed doors over the pre-season, Griffin feels as though his halfback is verging on an exciting phase in his career and is primed for an even bigger year.
"He's got himself in great nick and at this stage of his career as all good playmakers are, they're at the peak of their powers with the knowledge of the game they have. It just comes a lot smoother and a lot slower to them," Griffin declared. "It's a bit like playing a game of chess now, they know where to move the parts and what different shapes look like. Most of the good ballplayers like the Cronks, Thurstons, Maloneys and those types of guys - years 30 to 33 or 34 is where they can really control a game.
"Ben's in that period of his career now and I think our most important thing is just to keep our fingers crossed that he stays fit. He only played 15 games last year which cost us. "But if he stays fit, he's one of the better halfbacks and playmakers in the game, no doubt."
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