It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Brisbane when 32,000 fans packed into Suncorp Stadium to watch their Broncos take on Manly.With the Broncos fielding key players backing up after a brutal Origin on Wednesday night, this game could have gone either way. Throw into the mix Brisbane’s missing superstar Justin Hodges and odds were pointing in favour of the second-placed Sea Eagles, despite the injury-enforced absence of their rep stars Daly Cherry-Evans and Anthony Watmough.
Coach Anthony Griffin has been under extreme pressure to keep his job after patchy results and mounting speculation of Wayne Bennett’s return. He needed a perfect performance from his men … and that’s exactly what he got from halfback Ben Hunt.
Hunt was instrumental in Brisbane’s demolition of Manly; his kicking and passing game was almost flawless, while the way he steered his troops around so confidently has every Broncos supporter excited about the future. I think it’s safe to say now we have found our X-factor – the player to fill the enormous void left by the great man, Darren James Lockyer.
The Broncos are sitting in fifthposition after the 36-10 win, which is a far cry from last season’s 12thplace – the club’s worst result in its 26-year history. They looked boring; a team with no direction and no major purchases for 2014 – other than troubled Bulldog Ben Barba and injury-prone Roosters prop Martin Kennedy. The experts were doubting the Broncos’ credentials, with tips for a top eights finish scarce. With Peter Wallace, Corey Norman and Scott Prince all moving on in this year, there were no established halves remaining – at a club that has harboured the likes of Wally Lewis, Kevin Walters and ‘Alfie’ Langer. Brisbane appeared to be in strife.
Enter Ben Hunt, a 24-year-old kid from Rockhampton, and a product of St Brendan’s College, Yeppoon, which has produced Broncos such as Julian O’ Neill and Danny Bampton. Hunt is also a graduate of the Broncos NYC team and in 2008 was named the inaugural Toyota Cup Player of the Year – the kid can play.
Although he is a passionate Queenslander, it was actually not the Broncos Hunt supported growing up. In fact, it was the Cronulla Sharks, where his childhood idol Mat Rogers made his name. Ben also admits that Andrew ‘Joey’ Johns was a massive influence on his footy, which is extremely evident in his game. The way he attacks the line is memorising; the ability and confidence he displays at first receiver is pretty to watch; the way he throws those bullet-like passes, which land firmly on the chest of those its intended for; and like the great ‘Joey’, the kid can defend – no hiding behind second-rowers for this bloke.
After 12 rounds of the 2014 competition, Hunt is being mentioned alongside the likes of Johnathan Thurston, Josh Reynolds and Daly Cherry-Evans as the form halves in the NRL, with some media outlets suggesting that Hunt is on Mal Meninga’s radar for Origin II.
The road to a starting position has not been an easy one for Hunt. Fifteen-minute cameos here and there at hooker, the occasional start around Origin time. His halves performances were less than impressive. Throw in the fact that Meninga overlooked him for the Emerging Origin squad, and most blokes would consider a different career or simply waste away in the lower grades. It’s these setbacks alone that excite me the most. His determination to be a better player, his hunger to achieve greatness and the sacrifices he makes week in and week out. Not to mention the extra hours he puts in behind the scenes, and then there’s the self-imposed booze ban he has placed on himself. It’s this type of player that every kid aspiring to play in the NRL should look up to. What Ben has achieved is a prime example of hard work and belief in his abilities, and also ensuring at all times he keeps a tidy approach off the field as well.
Hunt has a cool head and performs well under pressure – the penalty goal he kicked last week to win the game against the Tigers is just one example of that – while his decision-making late in games has improved immeasurably. Also bear in mind he has a novice five-eighth partnering him in the halves in Josh Hoffman. Sure, there are imperfections in his game, but not even ‘Joey’ was perfect. For the Broncos though, expect some exciting times ahead with Ben in the halves; it’s this kind of all-rounder the Broncos have been hunting for.
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