Hunt ready to unbuckle after first-year roller coaster

TOUGH YEAR: Ben Hunt with James Graham. Picture: AAP

TOUGH YEAR: Ben Hunt with James Graham. Picture: AAP

DRAGONS halfback Ben Hunt is looking forward to thinking about anything but rugby league after a self-described "roller coaster” first year in the red v.

Saturday's agonising one-point semi-final defeat to South Sydney was indicative of the season the 28-year-old had after joining the club on a highly publicised six-year $6 million deal.

He scored a brilliant solo try for an 8-2 lead at halftime, only to shank an attempted go-ahead field goal and fail to get to a kick at the end of his side's final set, opening the door for Adam Reynolds’match-winning field goal.

It saw him once again wear the brunt of the criticism from fans and commentators for his inability to close the show. Hunt accepted as much in the aftermath.

“It was a pretty big error from me,” Hunt said.

“I thought we had a few numbers on the edge there so I just decided to shift the ball and I should have just played the [high] percentage play, kicked on the last and put them down there end.

“It was just an error on my behalf and it's very disappointing. Those little things in a game that really change an outcome. It gave them the field position and, credit to Reynolds, he's a great player and he kicked three field goals in a row.

“I can't remember watching a game where a side's had three field goals so it was a pretty crazy last 10 minutes. We fought really hard and, unfortunately, we didn't close out the game as well as we should have.” 

He similarly frank on his attempt field goal.

“We had field position and we didn't have many opportunities down their end tonight so I thought 'we might not get back here’ so I took the shot and absolutely sprayed it,” he said.

Fronting up, as he has all season in the face of relentless scrutiny, Hunt said he certainly plans to get away from the game after a season in which he became the most talked about player in the NRL.

“The media's part of the game and I'll always come and talk to the media,” Hunt said.

“I'm not going to shy away from it but if I can get away from some things that are written or said I'll do that. You learn different things along the way in how to handle it and get away from it.

“I found it pretty hard at times this year to try and get away from it but I learned some lessons again in how to handle that. I'll have a little reflection but I'll get completely away from footy. I'll have a lot of family time, get back to Queensland and see some friends and family. 

“It's been a bit of a roller coaster year but one I'll look back on and appreciate I think. There's been some good times, there's been some hard times and some lessons learned.

“Overall I've been quite pleased with the year and happy for the move. There's a plan going forward, there’s a big core of the team signed for several years. We'll go back to the drawing board, have a big preseason and go again.” 

No doubt the biggest question ahead of the preseason will be how to prevent the late-season drop off in form that have plagued recent campaigns, a super impressive 48-18 win over Brisbane in week one of the finals aside

It's a question coach Paul McGregor said he will look at as he reviews the campaign, but he was ultimately satisfied with the club's most successful season since 2011.

“I think if you go back and look at the year every team's going to have period where they're not playing well,” McGregor said.

“Every team in the competition's done that and the top eight teams have done less of it. That's why they finished so [far] clear of ninth position. 

“Ours was obviously at the back end of the year after a pretty heavy load through that middle third through the Origin period with players we haven't had in there before.

"With the type of footy we played for the first 10-12 weeks, there has to be a drop in there somewhere because to sustain that week in week out hasn't happened in the competition.

“The competition this year's as close as it's ever been. At the back end we got some injuries at the very wrong time, to be without Gaz [Gareth Widdop] and [Paul] Vaughan was difficult.

“Obviously there'll be a review at the end of the year and we'll look at it. Every team will go through a review and make sure they get things right for the follwing year and out things in place.”