‘He won’t want to go anywhere’: Why Flanagan believes he can convince Hunt to stay long term

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New St George Illawarra coach Shane Flanagan is adamant Ben Hunt will serve out the remaining two years of his contract as halfback and captain, insisting he won’t want to be anywhere else once the club starts enjoying success.

Hunt, a member of the Prime Minister’s XIII squad that will take on PNG in Port Moresby next weekend, has made no secret of his desire to return to Queensland. In a series of recent interviews, he pledged his support to the Red V but admitted he did so grudgingly after a release request on the eve of State of Origin II was knocked back.

Flanagan, who meets with Hunt each week to discuss any concerns, has noted the playmaker’s comments. However, the premiership-winning mentor dismissed calls from some to strip Hunt of the captaincy or to allow him to make an early exit.

“You can read his comments in a lot of different ways, but he did confirm that he is at the Dragons next year,” Flanagan said.

“All the conversations I’ve had with him are about that. It’s all been positive and about what needs to change. He wants to win. He’s a competitor, and I’m the same; we’re in the same boat.

“If we achieve what I think we can do, he won’t want to go anywhere. That’s my attitude to the whole thing.

“Ben’s biggest problem is we haven’t been winning footy games. A club came in and offered him a lot of money to go elsewhere and we would all think about that. He’s got to look after him and his young family, but he’s got a contract with us.

“We’ll be working hard and he’s not going anywhere.

“You can read between the lines as much as you like, but we’ll both be working hard and he will be the halfback and captain next year.”

Dragons captain Ben Hunt and incoming coach Shane Flanagan.Credit: Getty

Hunt told this masthead on Thursday that he had given thought to relinquishing the captaincy in the middle of the year, but is now confident he remains the best person to lead the team. Flanagan echoed those sentiments.

“I’m comfortable with Ben being our captain,” Flanagan said. “There’s been a lot of speculation about how can you have him as your captain? Let me deal with that.

“I get on well with him, he’s one of our best players. He will learn a lot about leadership between November and the start of the season. I’ll make sure that happens and he’ll be a good leader.

“Part of our program next year will be a leadership program. It will be like our strength, our speed, our football skills and all that sort of stuff; there will be a component of leadership.

“Leadership in sport is not about being the best player any more; it’s changed, and it’s a big job at footy clubs.

“There are so many different components of it: the squads are a lot bigger, a lot of different personalities and media, social media, so many different bits of it.

“If you don’t have strong leadership, it can be really hard to manage a squad.”

The Dragons finished the season in 16th spot after a tumultuous campaign that included the Hunt saga and the sacking of coach Anthony Griffin. However, Flanagan believes there is cause for optimism next season.

“I want to play semi-finals,” he said.

“We’ve got the squad there. There’s some really good players that have got more in them and I need to get that out of them. Moses Suli, Jaydn Su’a, Zac Lomax, Jack Bird, Jack de Belin, Blake Laurie – they’re all class players and we have some exciting young ones as well.

“There are some players who have played Origin and I need to put some good kids around them.

“I expect to play semi-finals. There’s no five-year plan, it’s about being competitive year to year and getting to a point where they plan semi-finals year in and year out. It’s achievable; Melbourne do it, the Panthers do it.

“We have an exceptional junior league catchment area down south, so we can do it. We just need to work harder.”

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