Wantaway St George Illawarra captain Ben Hunt has been torched over fresh comments about his desire to leave the club and move back to Queensland, despite being contracted for two more seasons at the NRL strugglers. Hunt's messy situation at the Dragons has been the subject of intense debate throughout 2023 after he went public about his desire to leave the club earlier in the season.
It was hoped the appointment of Shane Flanagan as Dragons coach might help convince Hunt to stay, with the former Sharks premiership-winning mentor expressing his desire for the Maroons star to stay on as captain. It comes as Hunt has reiterated his desire to move back home to Queensland, with the 33-year-old seemingly ruling out the Gold Coast Titans due to salary cap constraints.
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The Titans re-signed rep forwards Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and David Fifita on massive new deals and Hunt concedes there is probably little room left in the cap for him to sign with Gold Coast. “I’ve kind of not thought about it, but any team (in Queensland) is definitely an option,” Hunt said on Triple M. “Whether the Titans can fit you in is another thing.
“The Titans have thrown a bit of money around lately, so I don’t know whether that can even happen.” The crafty playmaker revealed that he was even considering retirement after admitting that staying with the Dragons was “not my first choice”.
Hunt said he's ultimately not ready to retire yet and believes he has plenty of good footy left in him. Speaking about the 33-year-old's recent comments on NRL 360, the Daily Telegraph’s league reporter Paul Crawley said Hunt only had himself to blame for inking a contract extension with the Dragons last season and suggested his position as captain at the club is untenable.
Ben Hunt savaged over desire to leave Dragons
“He had a chance to make his decision last October before he signed that new contract,” Crawley said. “To come out during State of Origin and concede that he wanted out, not just at the end of the season but immediately, is just not acceptable for an NRL captain.
"He knew what was happening at the Dragons when he signed that contract last October. He knew the club was in a terrible state at that stage.
"He’s the one with the contract. He has an option if he doesn’t want to be at the Dragons, he can walk away from his million dollar contract, but the NRL should back the Dragons on this and say if you walk away you don’t play until this contract is ceased."
Shane Flanagan wants Ben Hunt to remain Dragons captain
Hunt has backed Flanagan to bring about a change of fortunes at the Dragons next season and says he will happily remain captain if that's what the new coach wants. “I’ve had some good honest conversations with Flanno. His stance was that he isn’t coming in as a coach just to win games, he said I want you here, you are the captain and I want you to lead it and I don’t want to let you go so as a coach," Hunt said.
"I totally understand that. Why would you want to let players go who you think can help your side? At this stage, I’m a Dragon and going into pre-season that’s all I will think about. If the club thinks that someone else can do a better job than me (captaincy), I understand and accept that but as long as the club wants me there I’ll be happy to do it.”
League great Braith Anasta admits it's an ugly scenario the Dragons find themselves in, with Hunt's obvious desire to leave having the potential to destabilise the club. “From that interview right there, you don’t want to be going through the whole off-season and the start of the year again when you are not sure if your captain wants to be there," Anasta said.
“You’ve got to go forward, you’ve got to let go of the dead wood. Flanagan’s got an opportunity to set the club up and put them on the right path and he cannot afford to have his star player maybe not wanting to be there. You are either in or you’re out.”
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