By Brad Walter - NRL.com Senior Reporter
St George Illawarra Dragons star recruit Ben Hunt aims to prove himself as one of the top NRL halfbacks this season but he believes he has done enough at representative level to still be considered as Cameron Smith's backup for Queensland and Australia.
Hunt, who began training with the Dragons last week, played the utility role for the Maroons in the third State of Origin match of last year's series and was a member of the World Cup-winning Kangaroos squad after being chosen as cover for Smith in the hooking role.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor assured Hunt as recently as last week that he would be wearing the No.7 jersey after finishing his tenure with Brisbane as hooker but the 27-year-old is happy to continue playing deputy to Smith at Origin and Test level.
"I think the rep coaches have seen now that I can do that if they need me to," Hunt said in his first media interview since arriving at the Dragons.
"Personally, last year was a bit of a rollercoaster for me but getting the opportunity to play some representative footy was a highlight of the year and something I really enjoyed.
"I always wanted to be a No.7 but if I get the opportunity to play utility or any other position I will do the best I can."
"I think we have got the squad to be in the finals so anything less than that is going to be a disappointment."
After signing his five-year, $6 million deal with the Dragons last January, Hunt admits he kept a close eye on the team and was impressed by what he saw.
However a top-line halfback to partner captain Gareth Widdop at the scrumbase has been the missing piece in the jigsaw for McGregor and Hunt is aware of the expectation on him to perform immediately.
"It is what the Dragons have signed me for so I want to come here and be a great player for their team and really lead from the front, along with Gareth," Hunt said. "That is what my plan is, to really hit the ground running from day one.
"The Broncos are a one-town team and there is always a lot of pressure on the players up there, and the players who play in the halves, so I have learned to cope with it."
He also had no hesitation in outlining the Dragons' ambitions for this season, saying: "I think we have got the squad to be in the finals so anything less than that is going to be a disappointment".
Besides Widdop, who was arguably the best player at the World Cup with England, Hunt is excited about playing behind a forward pack which includes James Graham, Paul Vaughan, Tyson Frizell, Tariq Sims and Jack De Belin.
"I am usually not one to watch a lot of footy but I found myself watching nearly every game of theirs last year and I was pretty excited about what I saw, to be honest," Hunt said.
"They have got a great forward pack and some good young players coming through so I am looking forward to playing with them. Getting James in is going to be a big one. It is a reasonably young forward pack and just bringing him in, with his experience, is going to help those guys."
While Hunt doesn't yet know whether he will play in the February 17 pre-season clash with Challenge Cup winners Hull FC, who are playing Wigan in a Super League fixture at WIN Stadium a week earlier, he indicated that Matt Dufty would get first shot at the vacant No.1 jersey.
"Obviously they have got some good young talent here and Duft has got his nose in front at the moment, he played a bit there last year," Hunt said.
"He is an exciting young player, he has still got a bit to learn but it is definitely exciting being out there training with him. He has got some speed and he can put on some good plays."
As for the opening game of the season against the Broncos at Jubilee Oval on Thursday, March 8, Hunt said he was already receiving messages from his former team-mates.
"The boys have been throwing a bit of banter around. There have been a few [messages] since pre-season started so there will be a few that week," he said.
"It is going to be a strange feeling; it is just a strange feeling wearing red and white to be honest."