As St George Illawarra report for what shapes as a long, hard pre-season, prop Dan Hunt believes the newly assembled squad is ready to emerge from the club’s 2010 premiership shadow.
The Dragons have dealt with a mass exodus of experience since winning the 2010 flag under Wayne Bennett, and failed to reach the finals the past two years.
Hunt has played 139 games for the Dragons since making his debut in 2007 but says it is a new experience, at just 27, being an old head in a young side looking to rebuild.
‘‘It is strange – there’s only me, Benny Creagh, Brett Morris and Jason Nightingale from 2007 that are still here,’’ he said.
‘‘In 2012 we lost Dean Young, Ben Hornby, Beau Scott. And this year we’ve lost Matt Cooper, Nathan Fien and Michael Weyman.
‘‘It’s virtually half your side. It’s sad but it’s the way football works.’’
Retirements may be part and parcel of professional rugby league, but Hunt admits the Dragons have struggled to move on from player departures in recent seasons.
‘‘I think the culture we set with those guys, we can’t have the same expectations moving forward,’’ he said.
‘‘When people move on and retire, you can’t replace them.
‘‘You need to have other people in their spot, maybe with some of the same attributes, but who bring new things to the team.
‘‘We need to find our own identity and our own culture and I think that’s what will happen as we move forward.’’
Hunt believes a fresh recruitment drive, perhaps the biggest in the joint venture’s history, has the club ready to usher in a new era.
‘‘I think the players we’ve got coming in will bring something different, something new to the team,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m really looking forward to training and playing with Joel Thompson. He’s a tough character and will bring something we might have lacked with a bit of mongrel.
‘‘I think Sam Williams will go well with a bit of opportunity.
‘‘We’ve just got to work together, find what they do well and get that cohesiveness.
‘‘Once we find that we’ll be a very good football team.
‘‘There’s going to be so many changes and so many new things that come about and that’s really exciting.’’
He may have lofty team goals but Hunt is keeping it simple on the personal front following major off-season knee and shoulder surgery.
‘‘I just want to get my body right and get back on the training paddock with the boys – that’s my only goal at the moment.
‘‘My next goal after that will be to get back playing first grade and just playing my role in the team,’’ he said.
‘‘I don’t want to look too far down the track because if you start doing that you start doing your own head in.’’