Dragons man-of-the-moment Ben Hunt has revealed he is open to a return to Queensland to finish his NRL career with a second Brisbane team.

Sports Confidential can reveal Hunt, who celebrates his 31st birthday on Saturday, will consider a Queensland homecoming when his Dragons contract expires to help a proposed 17th NRL club in their embryonic years.

Hunt, who produced one of the finest performances of his career against the Cowboys last week, has taken up an option on the final year of his $6 million Dragons deal, keeping him at the Red V until the end of 2023.

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Ben Hunt would be open to returning to Brisbane after his Dragons’ contract ends in 2023. Picture: Evan Morgan
Ben Hunt would be open to returning to Brisbane after his Dragons’ contract ends in 2023. Picture: Evan Morgan

ARL Commission boss Peter V'landys will decide by July whether to expand the NRL to 17 teams for 2023 or 2024 and former Broncos halfback Hunt says he would be interested in helping a new club in their start-up phase.

The Queensland Origin utility will be on the cusp of his 34th birthday when he becomes a free agent in 2024.

Asked if he has interest in playing for a second Brisbane team, Hunt said: "I would always consider coming back (to Queensland).

"I loved my time living in Brisbane and loved the city and enjoyed my time at the Broncos.

"Depending on where the club is and who is going to get the licence, I would be more than happy to consider coming back. I wouldn't close the book on that at all.

"I have an option for another year (in 2023) and I took that up, so I'm committed to the Dragons for 2023, but I'd be available the following year. Maybe I'll give the second Brisbane team one year to get going and I could come in after that."

Hunt played 187 games for the Broncos and would be a good fit for a second Brisbane team as a Central Queensland product from the tiny town of Dingo.

While he would be in his twilight, a 17th club would require some experience to ensure they are competitive.

Asked where a second Brisbane team should be located, Hunt said: "The most commonsense spot for me is Redcliffe. I don't know the ins and outs of it (the expansion battle) but Redcliffe is the biggest one for me."

Ben Hunt would be a good fit a second Brisbane team. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Ben Hunt would be a good fit a second Brisbane team. Picture: Jonathan Ng

QRL BOSS STANDS UP TO V'LANDYS

Queensland rugby league chairman Bruce Hatcher has address rumours of a rift with the most powerful man in the NRL - ARL Commission boss Peter V'landys.

Veteran administrator Hatcher is known as a straight-shooter who is keeping the ARLC honest on a number of key issues in the sport, including V'landys' desire to introduce a second NRL club in Brisbane to rival the Broncos.

Speculation is rife tensions are strained between V'landys and Hatcher, but the QRL chairman set the record straight amid talk of a political feud.

"I will leave Peter to say what he thinks but I have been in the game a long time as an administrator and I am aware of the problems in the game," Hatcher said.

"I have differences of opinion with a lot of people in the game.

"We all have different opinions and those opinions have to be robustly debated. No one gets it right all the time. My view on expansion is let's not risk the whole lot (with expansion) for short-term gain.

"There's no issue with Peter. In any business relationship, there can be tensions but he is the chairman of the ARLC and what you seek to achieve is consensus on key issues in the game. But that doesn't mean you just acquiesce and accept everything you are told.

"Peter is a strong leader and at times we will have strong discussions, but Peter has done many good things. He leapt tall buildings to get the NRL back on track last year during COVID and he has made some good decisions with the rules.

"But I am prepared to challenge things and I do that in the best interests of rugby league."

Queensland Rugby League chairman Bruce Hatcher insists he has no issue with ARLC boss Peter V’landys. Picture: AAP
Queensland Rugby League chairman Bruce Hatcher insists he has no issue with ARLC boss Peter V’landys. Picture: AAP

ROGER THAT! BRONCOS WHIZKID WANTS OUT

The opportunity to receive career mentoring from Warriors skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is behind Reece Walsh's request for an immediate release from the Broncos.

Walsh shocked the Broncos by signing a $1 million deal with the Warriors last week with a view to originally moving to New Zealand for the 2022 season.

But Walsh's management have asked Broncos coach Kevin Walters for an instant move after Tuivasa-Sheck personally offered to mentor the 18-year-old before he replaces the rugby-bound 'RTS' at fullback next year.

Tuivasa-Sheck has already spoken to Walsh over the phone and is keen to work with him face-to-face in the coming months.

As part of the request, Brisbane has been offered a straight player swap with versatile Warriors outside back Hayze Perham. Perham, 21, has played nine NRL games since debuting in 2019, including seven matches last year.

It remains to be seen if Brisbane are tempted by Perham or entertain the idea of releasing Walsh, who could play NRL later in the year if the Broncos need him.

Reece Walsh’s management have asked the Broncos for an immediate release for the fullback to join the Warriors this season. Picture: Liam Kidston
Reece Walsh’s management have asked the Broncos for an immediate release for the fullback to join the Warriors this season. Picture: Liam Kidston

JETS SOOTHE TITANS' NERVES

The Brisbane Jets have made moves to assure the Gold Coast Titans they will not be encroaching on their turf if they are granted the NRL's 17th licence.

The Titans are privately apprehensive about the possibility of a new team entering southeast Queensland. It could potentially impact their commercial business and recruitment zones, especially with the Titans now tied up with leading Logan nursery Marsden High.

Jets chairman Steve Johnson met Titans chairman Dennis Watt and CEO Steve Mitchell to outline the hopeful expansion club's vision if they are admitted to the NRL from 2023.

"We met with the Titans to outline our vision and make sure we don't encroach on their recruitment areas so we can work cooperatively with them, rather than competing with them," Johnson said.

"We want to work with the Titans for the greater good of rugby league. Dennis Watt and Steve Mitchell are good rugby league men and we want what's best for the game first, so we felt it was important as a collective and work out the demarcation zones.

"If we can all be operating in our spaces, that gives rugby league great coverage and makes rugby league a force against the AFL in the grassroots space.

"We (Ipswich Jets) were originally a feeder club to the Titans and rugby league needs the Gold Coast. They are heading in a great direction and they do a great job in the Northern Rivers catchment as well. The Gold Coast have no shortage of commercial opportunities now, so the Jets have no interest in eroding their base."

Mitchell said he was buoyed by the meeting but called for more information to prove expansion in south east Queensland was a sound move by the NRL.

"We had some dialogue with the Ipswich bid people and they assured us they wanted to work hand-in-hand which was great," he said.

"I understand the game is considering expansion but I think it's important to have all the details and data to show the benefits of a second team in Brisbane."

SMITH GIVING BACK TO COAST

League legend Cameron Smith is already making an impact on his new Gold Coast community.

Smith was a special guest at a fundraising lunch for the Currumbin Eagles last weekend.

The Eagles are the local club of Smith's best mate Matt Geyer.

Smith, who announced his retirement on the eve of the NRL season, spoke at the lunch and helped raise vital funds for the grassroots club.

 

Geyer, a former Melbourne Storm teammate of Smith, has been playing A-grade for the Eagles in recent years.

At his retirement, Smith claimed he would lay low for a while after relocating to the Gold Coast and had no plans to play the game again. But it wouldn't be a surprise to see him turn out for the Eagles if Geyer can twist his arm.

WHY DOES IT ALWAYS REIN ON ME?

Titans hooker Mitch Rein has spoken for the first time about the Gold Coast's interest in Cameron Smith.

The Titans were heavily linked to Smith after the Storm legend left Melbourne and relocated to the Gold Coast.

While the club tried to distance itself from Smith, they would have fallen over trying to sign him if he decided he wanted to play for the Gold Coast.

That would have left Rein in an awkward position.

"It wouldn't have been very good for me because he would have taken my spot," Rein said. "There's no point in me getting caught up in that stuff. It will only affect my performances negatively and I can't control that.

"I don't really watch every league show. What's the point in getting caught up in that stuff?

"Every team is trying to sign someone every different day. Things change every day."

Luckily for Rein, Smith decided to retire, allowing him to lockup the Gold Coast's No.9 jersey and he has performed admirably in the opening rounds of the season.

Titans hooker Mitch Rein has started the season well. Picture: Jason O'Brien
Titans hooker Mitch Rein has started the season well. Picture: Jason O'Brien

BENNY AND BUZZ SMOKE THE PEACE PIPE ... SORT OF

One of rugby league's spiciest feuds could be over.

Veteran News Corp journalist Phil "Buzz" Rothfield and Souths super coach Wayne Bennett were seen shaking hands at Anthony Mundine's farewell press conference on Wednesday. Both are supporters of Mundine and came together to honour the boxing and NRL star. Hopefully Buzz can afford $5 to send 'Benny' a Christmas card this year.

BRONCOS WELCOME COMPETITION

Broncos chairman Karl Morris has thrown his weight behind a second team in Brisbane but is not convinced the NRL is ready for a 17-team competition.

The ARL Commission will decide whether to expand the competition by July and the call will have direct ramifications for the Broncos, who have enjoyed a long-time monopoly in the south-east Queensland market.

Morris says he is not opposed to a second Brisbane team, but would prefer relocation over expansion.

"I am supportive of a second team in Brisbane," he said. "It would be quite exciting to have a double header and those sorts of things in a promotional sense.

"My only concern is there are too many teams and having 17 seems a bit odd. It seems more logical that one of the Sydney teams relocates to Brisbane to be the second team.

"For me, 16 teams is the right number.

"It would be great to see a game at Suncorp every week. Two teams has worked well in Adelaide and Perth with the AFL. The Broncos are well prepared for something that we believe is inevitable."

Maroons coach Paul Green has been busy putting his coaching team together for Origin.
Maroons coach Paul Green has been busy putting his coaching team together for Origin.

GREEN ADDS TO CAMP MAROON

New Queensland coach Paul Green has continued his shake-up of the Maroons by reuniting with the high-performance boss who helped break the Cowboys' NRL premiership drought.

Green has wasted no time putting his stamp on Camp Maroon with Wayne Bennett's successor hiring Paul Bowman as Queensland's sports-science chief for this year's State of Origin series.

Former Cowboys mentor Green has been busy putting together his coaching brigade, appointing NRL playmaking legend Johnathan Thurston and veteran Neil Henry as his chief assistants for the 2021 campaign.

Green then made a tweak to Queensland's strength-and-conditioning program, severing ties with respected trainer Alex Corvo a fortnight ago in favour of Andrew Croll, who was part of the Cowboys' premiership win in 2015.

Now Green has added the final piece to his Queensland puzzle with the acquisition of Bowman, one of the NRL's longest-serving sports-science chiefs who devised the training program for the Cowboys' historic title triumph.

"It will be great to have Paul on board," Green said.

"Both Andrew and Paul are leaders in their respective fields and it's great to have them back together on staff for this year's series.

"Together with 'JT' (Thurston), they have achieved success in the past.

"Having Neil (Henry) on board as an assistant coach adds another layer of experience and stability as well."

Paul Bowman has signed on as the Maroons’ sports science chief. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Paul Bowman has signed on as the Maroons’ sports science chief. Picture: Alix Sweeney

Bowman joins Camp Maroon armed with a formidable rugby league portfolio. The former centre was a foundation Cowboy in 1995, playing 203 first-grade games for the club and amassing 12 games for Queensland across five Origin campaigns, including their famous 2001 series victory with 'Bennett's Babes'.

"I know Paul well from my time at the Cowboys and he played State of Origin himself, so he understands what is required in that arena," Green said.

MILF COPS A HIT

Brisbane's $1 million man Anthony Milford is facing a whopping $500,000 pay cut to remain at the Broncos.

Milford is off-contract at season's end and has attracted interest from two NRL rivals, but it's fair to say the days of him attracting another seven-figure deal are gone after three inconsistent seasons.

The Wests Tigers made inquiries with Milford's management last year.

The 26-year-old's preference is to remain at the Broncos but if he stays, Brisbane won't be paying more than $500,000 a season for the playmaker who went so close to winning the Clive Churchill Medal in the 2015 grand final.

 

Originally published as Perfect fit: Hunt open to Brisbane homecoming



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