IT’S a promoter’s dream match-up but Dragons coach Paul McGregor says his side’s clash with Brisbane on Thursday will be a fairly run-of-the-mill affair for new recruit Ben Hunt.
The match at Kogarah will officially ring in the new season and see Hunt face off against his former club in his first NRL outing as a Dragon.
It will ensure plenty of eyes will rest on his performance, but McGregor said the 27-year-old has been unfazed by the added scrutiny.
“Ben’s a pretty relaxed character,” McGregor said.
“He’ll handle the situation, there’s no doubt about that. He’s an experienced player, he’s played 180-plus games, so it’s just another game of footy for Ben.
“He’s looking forward to it, he’s playing against a lot of guys he grew up playing with and a coach [Wayne Bennett] that coached him for a long time. He’s excited about the game but, for us, it’s just about Ben executing the game plan. Everyone around him’s got to do their job as well.”
Adding to intrigue is the fact Hunt will also come up against young-gun Kodi Nikorima in the halves, the man who unseated him as Broncos halfback last season.
McGregor said he has picked his new No. 7’s brain ahead of the showdown, particularly in regards to Nikorima and former halves partner Anthony Milford
“We spoke about it, not only this week but leading up over a period of time,” McGregor said.
“He knows a lot about the opposition because he’d been there for such a long time and a lot of those guys he came through the 20s with.
He’s an experienced player, he’s played 180-plus games, so it’s just another game of footy for Ben.Paul McGregor
“He’s given us a little bit of indication of what they’re about but they have probably changed a little bit. [Assistant coach] Kevvie [Walters] is coming in.
“Milford’s obviously a very special player and Darius [Boyd] is pretty important at the back to.
“Nikorima’s played a fair bit of halfback late in the year for them and he’s ready to tie down that 80-minute game consistently.
“Benny leaving paved the way for that, I’m just fortunate enough to have Benny at my club.”
While Hunt coming up against his former club would ordinarily grab most of the headlines, the build-up to Thursday’s game has been largely dominated by the NRL return of Brisbane prop Matt Lodge.
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett on Wednesday blasted the media’s focus on Lodge so close to the start of a new season and McGregor echoed the sentiment.
“To us he’s just a player in an opposition jumper,” McGregor said.
“Whatever’s happened in the media around Matty Lodge has certainly got nothing to do with me. I’d rather put all my energy into what I need to do. Footy’s back on, we shouldn’t be talking about someone individually, we should be talking about rugby league and the excitement around the competition.”