Shock move to punt Hunt back to Brisbane
St George Illawarra is considering shopping utility star Ben Hunt back to Brisbane as Dean Young faces a tough battle to be named new Dragons head coach.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal the Dragons may look to pay up to half of Hunt's wage should he make a shock return to the Broncos from next season.
A key question in the possible shift would be whether Brisbane has the salary cap room the accommodate Hunt, even on a reduced contract.
There were suggestions the deal could be split evenly with both clubs paying $600,000 to cover Hunt's annual $1.2 million deal.
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Hunt, who comes off contract after 2022, may look to marginally shave his mega-deal for the chance to return to Brisbane, where he has family. One source thinks a deal could even be struck where Saints pay $400,000 of a revised contract worth $1 million a season.
While it would be significant money to be paying a player at a rival club, the move would give St George Illawarra an additional $400,000 to $600,000 in their salary cap.
Brisbane still has the money the club set aside for David Fifita, who joined Gold Coast, but may opt to sign a second-rower rather than a hooker/halfback.
Hunt would give Brisbane some much needed guidance and experience around the halves, an area where the club has struggled considerably this season.
Try as he has, Hunt's form and ability has been constantly questioned since arriving at St George Illawarra on a $6m deal three years ago. Some in the game privately claim Hunt would benefit from a shift away from Sydney.
With salary cap pressure, the Dragons know they will send out essentially the same roster next season unless the club can move Hunt or Corey Norman. Whether Hunt leaves may also depend on who is appointed head coach from next season.
The Daily Telegraph has been told two candidates - Anthony Griffin and David Furner - have strong support, both securing further interviews with the club later this week.
Furner is highly respected and has heavy support from the Illawarra side of the merger. He is also being courted by the Bulldogs about becoming Trent Barrett's assistant coach.
Young may need to win several games over the remaining four rounds to convince Saints' board is the man to lead the Red V. There is a theory Young could even continue as an assistant under Griffin or Furner and then take over as head coach in two to three years.
Furner has enjoyed considerable success at each NRL club he has coached - Canberra, Souths, North Queensland and now at Newcastle.
Griffin, the former Penrith and Brisbane coach has also much-needed support.
Warriors coach Todd Payten will this week be confirmed as North Queensland coach while Kevin Walters is ahead of Paul Green in the two-man battle to coach Brisbane.
Payten has done a remarkable job with the Warriors, who somehow remain in finals contention despite being inside a COVID bubble in a foreign country.
HUNT HOOKED ON GRIFFIN
By Nick Campton
As Ben Hunt prepares for his 250th NRL game, the St George Illawarra halfback has welcomed the idea of a reunion with former Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin.
One of the leading contenders to replace Paul McGregor, along with David Furner and interim coach Dean Young, Griffin's pre-existing ties to Hunt could give him an edge in the race to coach the Dragons from 2021 and beyond.
Hunt has a relationship with Griffin that goes all the way back to 2008, when he was crowned Toyota Cup player of the year as part of Griffin's Under 20s side in Brisbane.
"I enjoyed Anthony Griffin, I had him at the Broncos for a couple of years and in the Under 20s as well. I really enjoyed being coached by him," Hunt said.
"If he's the coach I'll be pretty happy with that.
"I've really enjoyed Deano the few years I've been here (as well).
"The few weeks he's had us he's really tried to put his stamp on and do things the way he wants to do it, which I think has been really good from Deano."
Griffin was the coach who switched Hunt to the halves full time in first grade - after making his debut in 2009, Hunt spent almost four years as a bench dummy-half before Griffin moved him to the scrumbase permanently in 2013.
Seven years on, and 11 years after his NRL debut, Hunt is still moving between the halves and hooker, and has done so for club, state and country.
The Queenslander still prefers the halves, but reaffirmed he's keen to stay at the Dragons regardless of who picks up the clipboard next season with a view to brining up 350 games in the future - which, given he's still only 30, is certainly possible.
"That's definitely the goal," Hunt said. "There's no thought of 'I want to leave' or go anywhere else at the moment.
"I'm looking forward to getting a new coach and getting stuck in next year and I think it's going to be a good change for the club, a bit of a freshen up.
"I've been pretty lucky with injuries - I think there's still some really good footy ahead of me and hopefully I can play some of that and get to 350."
Another Dragon with first-hand experience of Griffin's style is newly arrived prop Kaide Ellis, who played under Griffin during his time at the Panthers.
Ellis can see plenty of similarities between Griffin and Young, and believes Griffin's experience at bringing juniors into the NRL could be an advantage should he land the job.
"I had Hook for a couple of years, from 2016 onwards, he handed me my debut so I'm pretty close to him," Ellis said. "He's a very good coach, very old school, he likes to play tough footy and keep fit, so he likes making everyone run.
"From what I've seen of Deano, they're very similar - they're very D orientated, fitness and competing, all that kind of stuff.
"I think he'd be good for that, and he'd be good with the juniors - he knows how to develop players, which is what he done at Penrith."
Originally published as Shock move to punt Hunt back to Brisbane