Ben Hunt will "definitely" be at the Dragons in 2024 and will almost certainly "fulfil his contract next year" despite announcing in 2023 that he wanted out of the NRL club. At least, that's the opinion of News Corp league reporter Michael Carayannis, who claims the Maroons star is "pretty happy" playing under new Dragons coach Shane Flanagan.
Hunt came under fire last season after expressing his desire to leave the club and move back to Queensland, despite being contracted for two more seasons at St George Illawarra. Hunt's messy situation at the Dragons has been the subject of intense debate after the 33-year-old admitted that staying at the Dragons was not his "first choice".
The Maroons star all but ruled out the Gold Coast Titans as an option after the club secured the services of fellow Queensland Origin forwards Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and David Fifita on big-money extensions. However, Hunt's suggestions that he would happily join any team in Queensland did not go down well across the rugby league world.
“I’ve kind of not thought about it, but any team (in Queensland) is definitely an option,” Hunt told Triple M last year. “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 (a move to the Gold Coast).”
The Dragons have been hoping that by bringing in Flanagan as the club's new head coach that the former premiership-winning mentor would be able to convince his wantaway halfback to stay. It appears as though that may be the case, with Carayannis claiming on SEN that the veteran playmaker's future is looking increasingly likely to be at the Dragons, with few other clubs able or willing to match the Dragons' $900,000 per-year deal for a player aged 33.
Ben Hunt tipped to see out his contract at Dragons
“Not only will Ben Hunt plays out this year at the Dragons, he’ll fulfill his contract next year (2025) as well,” Carayannis told SEN. “Obviously not having the roster around him will be frustrating but the Dragons have shown they aren’t going to let him go.
“He’ll definitely be there this year and I think he’ll see out next year, because what is he 33-34? Not a lot of teams have $900,000 to accomodate that in their cap.” The Dragons have struggled to bring big-name recruits to the club in the NRL off-season, with Flanagan missing out on the likes of prop Addin Fonua-Blake and so far being unsuccessful in his attempts to lure Joseph Manu away from the Roosters.
Flanagan's squad has been boosted by the signings of Hame Sele (Rabbitohs), Kyle Flanagan (Bulldogs), Tom Eisenhuth (Storm), Corey Allan (Roosters), Jesse Marschke (Bears NSW Cup) and Raymond Faitala-Mariner (Bulldogs). The new Dragons coach is hoping that the arrival of his son Kyle to play alongside Hunt in the halves, will help bring out the Queensland star's dangerous running game.
Dragons coach hails combination between halves
"Ben's enjoyed his time with Kyle because it's taken a lot of pressure off him," the Dragons coach said. "Ben's played with young halves before and they've only played 20 games. Kyle's up around 80 (games) and his strength is his organisation.
"He's taken a lot of pressure off Ben because on the last tackle, big plays, the ball isn't always going to go to Ben. That's freed Ben up to run a little bit more and (he's) enjoying that."
Flanagan says while he understands the frustrations of fans around the club's off-season recruitment, he's promised to deliver a squad prepared to "scrap and fight" its way to victories across the new season. "We're going to be a side that is hard to beat and we're going to try not to beat ourselves," the Dragons coach said.
"We'll be in there fighting right to the end, but have a look at the sides I coached at the Sharks - we're going to scrap and fight and kick right to the end. We'll win games on the back of that." The Dragons kick off their 2024 season away to the Titans on March 9.
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