St George Illawarra have signed Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt to a rich five-year contract starting next season.
The club made the official announcement on Monday afternoon after initial reports broke last weekend suggesting Hunt had told Broncos officials he had agreed to a multi-million dollar deal with the Dragons.
The deal, which will make him one of the highest-paid players in the NRL, is believed to be for five years with an option of a sixth. It has been reported as worth almost $1 million per season.
St George Illawarra had been desperate to sign a top class playmaker and appear to have done so with 26-year-old Hunt.
Hunt led Brisbane to the 2015 grand final which they lost to North Queensland. Hunt infamously dropped a kick off which led to Johnathan Thurston kicking the winning field goal in golden-point extra-time.
Hunt made his debut for Brisbane in 2009 and was the inaugural under-20s player of the season in 2008.
He has also played for Australia three times and has been around the Queensland set up, called up as cover in 2014, but has not yet made a State of Origin appearance.
Hunt was one of the eight members of Queensland’s Emerging Maroons squad that was banned from State of Origin selection for 12 months after breaking a team curfew at a camp last January.
St George Illawarra Dragons director of rugby league pathways Ian Millward said Hunt's signature was crucial for the club.
“We were looking for a really competent, world-class halfback. It was about signing someone who has been a regular halfback and who has played at the highest level,” he said.
“Ben's also a good family man and quite composed as a person. The Red V fans should be over the moon.”
While the signing was exciting news for the Dragons’ future, Millward said the club's immediate focus remained on the upcoming season.
“Ben's made a massive commitment to the Dragons but he also has a season to go with the Broncos,” he said.
“It's important he has a great season with the Broncos and it's important we have a great season with the personnel we currently have.”
Millward said the club remained focused on player retention – from junior representative teams to the NRL – and hinted more signings could be on the way.
“We're still very active internally as well,” he said.
“I don't want to speculate on specific names at present because we're in negotiations but we are progressing well.”
There is now some doubt surrounding the future of Dragons captain and five-eighth Gareth Widdop, who is off-contract at the end of this season.
St George Illawarra were thought to be preparing to play Drew Hutchison at halfback this year before a knee injury ended his season. With Benji Marshall leaving to join Brisbane, the Dragons are likely to partner Josh McCrone or Kurt Mann with Widdop.
The Dragons start their pre-season fixtures with the Auckland Nines on February 4 and 5 before trials against the Wests Tigers and the Charity Shield with South Sydney.