With all eyes on Ben Hunt’s future after a chaotic week, St George Illawarra gave their fans more cause for concern with a diabolical performance on Friday night against the Warriors.
The skipper was on the quick back-up from Wednesday’s State of Origin clash and while his contract saga was the major talking point prior to kickoff, the side’s leaky defence again pushed them to the bottom of the NRL ladder in a 48-18 loss at WIN Stadium.
Two of the club’s fellow leaders – Jack Bird and Jaydn Su’A – were both falling off countless tackles just weeks after rumours circled of their own discontent in Wollongong, while outside backs Mikaele Ravalawa, Mat Feagai and Tyrell Sloan had tough nights under the high-ball and in defence.
The 21-year-old fullback admittedly provided the only real attacking spark for the Red V, but Sloan’s struggles with defusing bombs and covering for the side’s leaky defence has been a constant fixture in their defeats this year.
Ravalawa on the other hand had arguably his worst game in years, coming up with three errors and some crucial defensive lapses to allow the Warriors to gain the ascendancy on multiple occasions.
And for Feagai, he was outclassed by his opposing winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who burned him on numerous occasions to cross for four tries.
Shaun Johnson also proved to be a difference-maker, and once the Warriors crossed in the 48th minute with Marata Niukore in the sin-bin, it was all over red rover as the visitors piled on the points as the hosts waved the white flag, forcing plenty of their supporters out of the stadium early to beat the traffic.
Statistics may not paint the full picture either, with the Dragons only missing 32 tackles for the night – but the fact they allowed a 12-men Warriors side to strip them for numbers out wide was proof of their structural issues.
Ben Hunt’s cloudy future haunts the Dragons
Despite the result and the myriad of issues at the club both on and off the field, all of the attention will remain on Hunt and whether or not he will play for the Dragons again.
The 33-year-old has requested a release from the club after only re-signing at the end of 2022, with a host of rival NRL clubs lining up to acquire the Queensland star’s services immediately.
Could the noise around Hunt’s potential move away from the Dragons have played a factor in their poor display? Possibly, because if your captain doesn’t want to be there, why would anyone else.
Hunt told the media following the game that he was set to meet with St George Illawarra officials next week, which could decide whether his time in the red and white is officially over.
“It’s not [easy at all]… I’m just disappointed in not turning up for Jack de Belin to be honest,” he said.
“It’s his 200th game and he’s a good mate and he deserves better than that.
“I’m still the captain of the team and I always show up for my role until that’s changed.
I’m keen to get it sorted out. I have a meeting with the club this week and we’ll get to the end of it. I honestly don’t know [what will happen].
“There’s been a couple of tough days and a couple of really good days. It’s the old rollercoaster of rugby league and tonight can bring you back down pretty quick… we tossed up a pretty embarrassing game.
“I totally understand the fans are gonna be disappointed. We’ve got very passionate fans and they love this club.”
Interim coach Ryan Carr shut down suggestions the outside noise regarding Hunt played a role in the loss.
“None – there’s excuses everywhere if you want them,” he said.
“It wasn’t an excuse before the game, so it wasn’t an excuse after the game because of the result. It had nothing to do with it, we were extremely disappointing and embarrassing tonight.
“I apologise to our fans who turned up here – definitely not up to the standard we have been playing to for the past month. I don’t want to make any excuses around that.
“We’ve got a good relationship, Ben and I. We talk frequently and he said if he gets through clean, he was keen to play and there’s more people than just Ben out on the field, there’s 17 of us running out there tonight.”