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Ben Hunt was billed as the next Andrew Johns while progressing through the Broncos ranks and Ian Millward, the man who recruited him to the Dragons, believes he has proven worthy of that comparison.

Hunt, who last year played key roles in Queensland’s Origin series win and Australia’s World Cup triumph, will make his 300th NRL appearance on Saturday night when he captains St George Illawarra in North Queensland.

It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the 33-year-old, who was named the inaugural NYC under 20s player-of-the-year in 2008 but had to bide his time behind Peter Wallace and Scott Prince until 2014 to secure the Brisbane No.7 jersey.

He played halfback in the epic 2015 grand final but, like Johns, much of Hunt’s representative career has been at hooker and the Dragons captain is considered among the best players in the game in either position.

Ben Hunt celebrates Queensland's 2022 Origin series win
Ben Hunt celebrates Queensland's 2022 Origin series win ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

“I think the biggest compliment you can give Ben is that he just competes in everything, and he tries to win every battle,” said Millward, the former Super League premiership winning coach who is now the Dragons' pathways manager.

“When Ben was coming through, he was looked upon as the next Andrew Johns and he has probably exceeded the expectations of even the people who said that.

“I know there is only one Andrew Johns, but Ben has played 300 NRL games, he has represented Australia on numerous occasions and won a World Cup, and he has won an Origin series for Queensland – not just with Queensland, but through his actions.

“I don’t know any other player who can go into the Test or Origin arena and be considered as one the top three hookers in the game, when he doesn’t play there regularly.

"Ben is a world class player who can influence a game in a number of positions.”

Hunt wins Origin for Queensland

The Dragons identified Hunt as a franchise player for the club after Millward, coach Paul McGregor, CEO Peter Doust and football manager Ben Haran drew up a criteria for the player they wanted to partner Gareth Widdop in the halves.

Among their requirements were that the star recruit must have played more than 120 NRL matches, featured in a grand final or played at Origin or Test level, be a dominant playmaker and be of good character.

How good is... Ben Hunt

“Ben ticked a lot of boxes, and we were unanimous as a club that he was a person we wanted,” Millward said.

“He didn’t come to us because he was no longer wanted at the Broncos, they went head-to-head with us to try and retain him.

“One of our selling points was that he could come to our club as a franchise player. When we initially discussed who we could get as a franchise player, he was the one we all wanted to have a crack at.

“We had a couple of meetings with him before we even discussed money and we were trying to find out if he was a person who would genuinely consider us.

"His wife, Bridget, was very, very supportive and they were both keen to explore a change of scenery.

“We learned a lot about the person in those meetings; it wasn’t like what have you got to offer and I’ll have a think about it.

“He was very level-headed, very mature in his thinking, never flustered and had all of the qualities you look for in a halfback to lead your team.”

Life Changes series: Ben Hunt

Hunt initially endured criticism over the size of his five-year deal with the Dragons and the fact that his departure was announced before the start of his final season at the Broncos but it didn't effect his form as he debut for Queensland in 2017.

Playing alongside Widdop in 2018, he helped the Dragons to 15 wins and the play-offs before going down 13-12 to South Sydney after Adam Reynolds kicked three field goals in an elimination final without the injured English five-eighth.

With Widdop only playing 10 more games the following season after suffering a recurrence of the shoulder injury, Hunt stepped into the leadership role and he has played his best football despite St George Illawarra's on-field struggles.

Hunt sets up Widdop

"Our coach at the time [McGregor] thought there was upside in Ben when we signed him," Millward said. "It wasn’t like we thought we were getting the final package.

"We thought there was a really high possibility he hadn’t reached his ceiling yet and he is getting better as he gets older."

Since joining the Dragons, Hunt has become a mainstay of the Maroons and Kangaroos.

He scored the winning try in last year's Origin series decider at Suncorp Stadium and also started at hooker for the Kangaroos in the World Cup final at Old Trafford.

Match Highlights: Australia v Samoa

“I know some blokes can play 7 and 6, or 6 and fullback, but to defend in the middle of the ruck and then be a playmaker is completely different, whereas the role of a fullback who can play six his role doesn’t change much," Millward said.

"I think it just shows how talented he is because the four most important positions in your roster are the spine, and some clubs have 40 per cent of their roster taken up in those positions.

"He is one of the best players in either position and there would be no-one thinking he isn't going to make the Origin team. It's quite incredible.

Anthony Griffin and Ben Hunt have enjoyed a long relationship
Anthony Griffin and Ben Hunt have enjoyed a long relationship ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos


Dragons coach Anthony Griffin, who previously coached Hunt at the Broncos, said he was an inspiration and role model for other players at the club.

 "I have known him since he was 17, he is a fantastic person first and foremost. He is very honest, he works very hard and when it comes to football he has always got a team mentality," Griffin said.

"I think that the best compliment you can give him is that other players want to play with him because they respect him and he has built that over the years. He has turned into a great leader for our club."


Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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