When Ben Hunt says ‘follow me’, Josh McGuire and his St George Illawarra team-mates do so without hesitation.
Hunt is the reason McGuire and others, such as hooker Andrew McCullough, joined the Dragons and he is the player they believe can lead the Red V back to the finals this season.
The St George Illawarra skipper stood up when his team needed him most as they defended a 14-12 lead in the annual ANZAC Day match against Sydney Roosters by producing a 78th minute 40/20 kick and then denying a desperate final pass from Daniel Tupou to Luke Keary.
Earlier, he had laid on first half tries to prop Francis Molo and second-rower Jayden Su’A and made 14 tackles before winning the Ashton-Collier Medal as man-of-the-match in one of the Dragons' best wins in years.
“He's always been a leader since we were kids,” McGuire said. “I have played with Benny since we were 14 or 15 and he's always had those qualities. But I think having the captaincy, he just keeps everyone accountable. He leads by example every week at training.
“The older you get the more professional you have to be, when you have a wife and kids and that, and he really shines doing the little things. He just tells the truth whether you like to hear it or not, and it keeps us all accountable.
“As a player, I think he's just getting better every game. He's like a fine wine, he's getting better with age. I really love playing with him, that was a massive reason I came to the club - to be with Benny.
“I had a lot of success with him at the Broncos, so to follow him down here - and to follow him here - was a major contributing factor for me.”
McCullough has also played much of his career alongside Hunt and the veteran hooker said game management had always been one of his strengths, but he also knows how to lift his team-mates.
Just a week ago, Hunt was advising Talatau Amone to bide his time on the bench - as he did in his early years at the Broncos - and on Monday he was giving direction to the rookie five-eighth after he replaced the injured Jack Bird at half-time.
“He was inspirational, but he has been doing that for a long time,” McCullough said. “He just knows how to do that now, as he gets older. Leadership, setting the standards and things like that.
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“He has always had it. It probably just stands out a bit more now but, for me, it is nothing out of the ordinary. I’ve been playing with him for a long time.”
Yet for all the praise Hunt has received after St George Illawarra’s back-to-back wins against the Knights and Roosters, he is often the one who wears the blame when the team loses.
To his credit, Hunt has never gone into his shell or avoided the pressure when a game is on the line but since being appointed captain last season the star playmaker’s game has gone to another level.
“He has probably been kicked around a bit the last couple of years with the way he has been treated,” McGuire said. “But I think as a playing group we probably haven't given him the support he deserved.
“He's had the [$1 million] price tag and stuff, but I feel like he's been our best player the last couple of years. He keeps producing big performances and he's only getting better.
"I thought he was fantastic last year when he was playing but he broke his leg and his arm, and it just kept on compounding. He's been able to put together a string of games for us this year and he keeps producing those big moments, like that 40/20.
"There's not many halfbacks in the competition defensively as good as Ben Hunt. That's what separates him for us, just his attitude on defence and on both sides of the ball.
“I was lucky enough to play back row outside him, and just his talk and leadership make my life a lot easier playing 80 minutes at back row.”