Ben Hunt was with his former Brisbane Broncos teammates at the recent wedding of hooker Andrew McCullough when the talk inevitably turned to next Thursday night’s Telstra Premiership opener at Jubilee Oval.
”They were saying ‘righto, round one. We will be coming for you and stuff like that’,” the St George Illawarra Dragons star recruit told NRL.com. ”All the boys were getting into me a bit, all in good fun.
”It’s something I never thought I would want to do but I am actually looking forward to it. There is going to be a bit of banter and bit of fun in the game between the boys so it is going to be a real challenge.”
The offer of a five-year contract from the Dragons and the opportunity to play behind a pack Hunt considers one of the best in the NRL was too good to turn down but leaving the Broncos was still a difficult decision.
Since being recruited by legendary former Broncos scout Cyril Connell as a 12-year-old halfback, the Blackwater Crushers junior had never considered he would play anywhere else.
A Cronulla Sharks supporter who idolised Andrew Johns while growing up in Dingo, about 150km west of Rockhampton, Hunt attended his first training camp with the Broncos at 13 and accepted a scholarship when he was 15.
After finishing high school in Yeppoon, he moved to Brisbane and was a member of the Broncos’ inaugural under 20s team in 2008, which included McCullough, Josh McGuire, Matt Gillett and Alex Glenn.
”I had been with them for 10 years so letting those boys know that I wouldn’t be playing alongside them anymore was the hardest thing,” Hunt said of his decision to sign with the Dragons.
”It was an extremely hard decision. I had been involved with the Broncos since I was 12 years old and they had been very good to me. I have some great mates from that under 20s team who are still there.
”I told just a few of teammates first. Andrew McCullough was definitely there and certainly the one I had been involved with for a long time. They all really understood and congratulated me.”
Hunt also had to inform Broncos coach Wayne Bennett and his former captain Darren Lockyer, who had mentored him when he first broke into the NRL ranks and is still involved with the club.
”Going to tell Wayne was pretty tough in itself,” he said. ”He said he understood my decision and wished me all the best for this season but hoped I wanted to finish my last season there really strong.”
Lockyer tried to convince Hunt to remain with the Broncos.
”We had a few chats here and there,” Hunt said. ”He just talked about how good it was for him to be a one-club man and what it meant to be a Bronco, that they really wanted me in the team.”
So too did the Dragons, and they had identified Hunt as the star halfback the club had been missing since the formation of the joint venture between St George and Illawarra in 1999.
Other halfbacks were on the market but the Dragons targeted Hunt as the one they wanted and convinced him to sign before the start of the 2017 season.
”Five-year deals don’t come around very often and I think just having that security was massive,” said Hunt, who took time off from last year’s World Cup with Australia to get married and has a young son, Brady.
”There were a couple of other clubs who were interested but the Dragons just had a lot to offer. Wollongong is a nice place to play footy and I personally believed they had a great roster – then they added James Graham.
”As a halfback that was something I was pretty happy about. I felt like I made the right decision.”
With such a big contract comes expectation but Hunt is used to that as anyone who wears the No.7 jersey for the Broncos has to live with comparisons to Allan Langer.
Hunt admits that he struggled with that during his early career but believes he is prepared to cope with the pressure he will come under at the Dragons.
”Alfie always delivered, he set the standard, he was such a great player for the Broncos for such a long time – and for Queensland and Australia,” Hunt said.
”Because of him there was always high expectations on whoever played halfback and a lot of pressure from the fans.
”The Dragons have brought me down here for a reason and that is to win footy games.
”My intention in coming here is to be that halfback they have been looking for and cement my spot for as long as they want me.”