The St George Illawarra Dragons say they're confident Ben Hunt won't leave the club despite growing reports that the sacking of coach Anthony Griffin has left his future at the NRL strugglers in doubt. On Tuesday, the Dragons ended months of speculation - dating back to last season - by announcing they had parted ways with Griffin.
Griffin was sacked in farcical scenes on Tuesday, with Dragons players sent out to fulfil media obligations before being informed of their coach's departure. League greats Wendell Sailor and Mark Carroll were among those to slam the Dragons over their handling of the situation, with the latter describing it as a 's**t fight' and an "absolutely appalling" oversight from the club's bosses.
The veteran coach's departure came as no surprise but it has left Dragons fans and analysts fearing what it means for the future of Queensland Origin star Hunt. The veteran Dragons halfback had a close relationship with Griffin and had previously indicated that he would reconsider his future at the club if the coach was sacked.
The 33-year-old indicated he didn't have the time left in his career or inclination to effectively start from scratch with a new coach. The panel on Fox Sports' NRL 360 discussed the situation on Tuesday night in the wake of Griffin's axing and suggested Hunt could be heading for an early "divorce" from the club.
“I’m not sure he wants to stay there, in my eyes there are a lot of other clubs that would be circling, there is one that stands out to me and that is the Bulldogs,” host Braith Anasta said. “There are murmurs that the Bulldogs are chasing, I know Gus (Bulldogs supremo Phil Gould) has interest in Hunt.
“Hunt would be the perfect fit for the Bulldogs right now, Kikau to come back in, Mahoney, Burton, Crichton to come in next year. He would be the perfect solution to the Bulldogs.”
Dragons assistant Ryan Carr has taken over as interim coach, having previously served as an attacking coach at Parramatta. Jason Ryles is reportedly the No.1 target to take over as the Dragons' full-time coach next year, while fellow club great Ben Hornby has also been heavily linked to the role.
Daily Telegraph league reporter Dave Riccio told the panel the fact the Dragons don't have a coach lined up yet to replace Griffin - despite the coach's head being on the chopping block for months - is a perfect example of what's wrong with the club. “This is why Dragons fans deserve to be absolutely filthy,” Riccio said.
“Dragons management have created this situation where, not only have they been unable and are unable, to recruit star power, to recruit from outside because they can’t sell a story. You can’t go to the Dragons because you don’t know who the head coach is, you’d only be going for an opportunity and that only lasts for so long.
“The Ben Hunt situation, I think this is headed for a divorce. Why would Ben Hunt want to stick around through another process, under a new coach, when the potential of the Bulldogs would be appealing.”
Dragons bosses confident Ben Hunt will stay
Dragons powerbrokers addressed concerns around Hunt's future in a 90-minute grilling from fans at a pre-planned member's forum on Tuesday night in Wollongong. Multiple questions from the 50 members in attendance and close to 700 online also surrounded the future of Hunt, who last year re-signed until the end of 2025.
"Ben is like all our players, he is frustrated because he wants to win. That's what he wants to see," Dragons chief executive Ryan Webb said. The club boss also spoke on NRL 360 to say he was confident the Dragons skipper would still be at the club in 2024.
Dragons football boss Ben Haran was also blunt when quizzed about whether the club's halfback would be leaving the club. "I certainly won't have him go anywhere," Haran said.
"Ben's frustrated. We're all frustrated from the results. You want to win. Ben wants to win.
"You see the way Ben plays. You don't play 300 games if you don't care about winning. That is why he is frustrated. We have regular conversations with Ben ... He is getting brought on with everything and he just wants to get out there and win on Friday night (against the Roosters)."
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