With or without Ben Hunt, St George Illawarra’s season looks a lost cause after the Warriors added to the Dragons’ woes with a crushing 48-18 win over the NRL’s basket-case club.
There was no sign of any hostile reception for Hunt from the Wollongong faithful despite the skipper earlier this week telling the Dragons he wanted out from the club.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Ben Hunt admits he “could have played his last game with the Dragons.”
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But by the game’s end on Friday night, Red V fans could have been forgiven for demanding a $1 million refund from the disgruntled playmaker after Hunt produced a pedestrian performance at WIN Stadium.
Forty-eight hours after helping Queensland seal a second straight State of Origin series win over NSW, Hunt was totally outplayed by his Warriors opposite Shaun Johnson.
Johnson produced his 16th and 17th try assists for the season, as well as crossing for one himself, to send St George Illawarra crashing back to the bottom of the table with the 30-point thumping.
Hunt managed only three runs for 24 metres and never looked like sparking the attack, hardly the output of a million-dollar-a-season playmaker.
Whether the 33-year-old has played his 118th and last game for the club will now be up to the board.
“I’m keen to get it sorted out. I’ll have a meeting with the club this week and we’ll get to the end of it,” Hunt said after surprisingly fronting up to the post-match media conference.
“I’m still the captain of the team and I’ll always show up for my role. Until that’s changed, I’ll keep coming.
“I’m more just disappointed in not turning up for Jack De Belin in his 200th game. He’s a good mate and he deserves better than that.
“I honestly don’t know if I’ve played my last game for Dragons.
“I’ve had some tough days and some really good days. That’s the rollercoaster of rugby league, but tonight can bring you down pretty quickly.”
Dragons interim coach Ryan Carr insisted the Hunt saga couldn’t be blamed for his side’s meek display.
“Look, there’s excuses everywhere if you want them,” Carr said.
“But it wasn’t an excuse before the game so why is it an excuse after the game because of the result?
“It had nothing to do with it. We were extremely disappointing and embarrassing tonight so apologies to our fans who turned up here tonight.
“It definitely was not up to standards and not up to the standard that we’ve been playing to for the last month.”
The ineffective Hunt was far from the Dragons’ worst, though, with winger Mikaele Ravalawa having a shocker.
A series of howlers from Ravalawa helped the Warriors to a 20-6 halftime lead.
He spilt a Johnson bomb early before Dallin Watene-Zelezniak opened the scoring in the ensuing set with the first of his career-best four tries for the night.
Only the bunker’s intervention denied the Warriors a second four-pointer moments later after a terrible defensive misread from Ravalawa.
Fleet-footed fullback Tyrel Sloan showed blistering speed to put the Dragons ahead against the run of play before Ravalawa rushed out of the line to allow his Warriors opposite Marcelo Montoya a free run to score.
The Warriors never looked back.
Four minutes later, after Bayley Sironen and Jackson Ford both profited from Johnson kicks, the Warriors suddenly found themselves 14 points in front.
Marata Niukore offered the Dragons a lifeline back into the contest after being sin-binned for forcing Moses Suli off with a category-one concussion.
Zane Musgrove duly gave home fans hope when he crossed three minutes later to drag the deficit back to eight points.
Alas, the Warriors piled on five more tries – including a second-half hat-trick to Zelezniak – to secure only a second NRL win at WIN Stadium to continue their surprise push for a top-four finals berth.