By STEVE MASCORD
BEN Hunt has read too much negativity about a particular subject to really enjoy talking about it. So when he is asked about it, he tends to give short, polite, somewhat defensive answers.
That subject is: himself.
“Before the season started, a lot of people wrote me off,” the Brisbane Broncos player of the year tells Rugby League Week ahead of the Four Nations kick-off this Friday.
“People were saying ‘he’s going to be no good’ at halfback.. So I just tried to go out there and do what I could. I’ve learned not to read too much into things. There are always rumours and speculation and opinion.
“You can’t take it too seriously. You’ve just got to get on with your life.”
And this 24-year-old’s life is worth exploring, regardless of how expansive or not he chooses to be in discussing it. From being stuck at hooker to being struck by the sacking of ‘Hook’, it’s a rip roaring yarn of succeeding in one of the most famous jerseys in the game when just every every9one – as outlined above – said he couldn’t.
But it’s when we move away from the story of B Hunt that the St Brendan’s Yeppoon junior starts to loosen up. It’s when we move onto the top du jour, one J Hayne, that walls come down.
“I’ve only spoken to Matty Gillett about it, just last night, and he thinks it’s crazy but also very, very exciting – like, good on him,” Hunt says, suddenly sounding like a bloke having a mag over the back fence.
“It would be a massive thing for him to make it but he is freak athlete.
“I think it does have a broader meaning. Other players do look to other sports, like rugby union, to prove that they can do something different, play something else, and the NFL is one of the biggest competitions in the world.
“These days, you play your five or six years of rugby league and then you’re looking for a change, to challenge yourself and prove you can do it. Like, in union, you can play all around the world and see all these other countries.”
Hayne’s shock departure has, of course, led to claims that rugby league could have been better protected against this trend if it had done more to expand since its inception in 1895. Hunt reckons this would help retain some players, but not all.
“For some guys, yes,” he explains. “They do change for the lifestyle so if they could travel around the world or something, they might stay in league.
“But for others it’s about testing themselves. They want to prove they can make it in another sport, that’s their reason.”
Hunt agrees that the internet and the globalisation of media has resulted in players looking beyond the NRL and beyond rugby league for role models.
“The world has changed,” he said. “People are getting married later …. There are so many options out there and because others have done it, there are opportunities to play other sports.”
Perhaps our players feel comfortable talking about what lies beyond the game’s borders because no coach or CEO is going to hold it against them.
Internally, politics creates a maze for interviewees.
The entire Brisbane first grade squad was loyal to coach Anthony ‘Hook’ Griffin. When he was sacked in late July, they halfback’s form suffered and he considered throwing himself on the open market.
“We all got called in for a meeting with Hook and Paul White but there were rumours around, we knew what was going on,” said Hunt.
“He had faith in me when pretty much no-one else did so I’ll always be grateful for that.”
Hunt’s father, Geoff, said this was the time his son came closest to leaving the Broncos. Frustrated at the treatment meted out to Griffin, he said he was willing to test his value on the open market.
“I spoke to a couple of people, had a talk about what other clubs might be able to offer,” he recalled.
“But I didn’t look into it too much. It was in the back of my mind. There were a number of reasons (why I didn’t).
“I like living in Brisbane. My partner’s always been with me here. I think the club has a good future, I think Wayne Bennett will be good.”
When Brisbane were eliminated from the premiership race by North Queensland on the first weekend of the finals, Hunt was not expecting much. “I thought ‘footy’s over, time to relax, take it easy, get away.”
Instead, after polling well in the Dally Ms with votes (but Daly Cherry Evans beating him into the team of the year on five fewer votes), things have got a little crazy post-season for the Rockhampton-born footballer.
At the Broncos presentation night, he was named player of the year by a clear margin. He took out the fans’ favourite, the best back and players’ player.
Straight from the Brisbane Convention Centre, he travelled to the airport and onto Cairns for an overnight stay, before continuing to Kokopo and a starring role in the Australian Prime Ministers XIII’s 34-16 win over PNG.
(“What sticks out in my mind is how hard they hit … they tackle full-blast – and how passionate the fans are, they know everything about you”)
He was out of camp before the Four Nations long enough move into a new house.
At the Broncos presentation, club CEO Paul White publically thanked Hunt for not testing his value on the open market – but recounted a story of the no.7 getting his message across regarding negotiations by rewriting a Status Quo song at a barbecue.
Hunt explains: “There was a barbecue over at Anthony Griffin’s house and a few of us were in the middle of negotions.
“Anyway, a few of the boys started singing ‘Down, down, prices are down’.”
Hunt reveals this year is not the first time in his five years at the club that he thought about leaving. When he was stuck at hooker, a position he disliked, “I had a bit of a talk to a few people.
“There were some clubs …. A couple in Sydney, some in other places. But I was facing the same thing I had in Brisbane. I would have to force my way in and take someone else’s position.”
Success means more to Ben Hunt because he’s had to work at it, play out of position and prove a lot of people wrong. Arguably, he represents Anthony Griffin’s lasting legacy at the club.
“You see some players, they come straight out of the blocks as soon as they come into first grade,” he says. “Yeah, it does mean more, that it didn’t happen like that for me.”
Ben Hunt had better get used to reading some good things about himself.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK