Dragons kick off their new era tonight at Kogarah

Ben Hunt will make his St George Illawarra debut against his former NRL side Brisbane.
Ben Hunt will make his St George Illawarra debut against his former NRL side Brisbane.

The time has come for Ben Hunt to deliver on his $6 million NRL deal with St George Illawarra.

The Dragons will kick off their new era on Thursday night in Kogarah and Hunt will run out against his former club Brisbane in the NRL season-opener to begin his five-year contract, which has an option for a sixth season.

Only the controversy surrounding the Broncos' Matt Lodge has stopped all the attention this week from being on Hunt and his replacement in Brisbane, Kodi Nikorima.

Hunt's deal kick-started last year's play-making merry-go-round and is the biggest in Dragons' history. However, the 27-year-old's importance to the club can't be understated given he'll end a 121-game wait for a recognised halfback at the club.

Not since Ben Hornby retired at the end of 2012 have Paul McGregor and his predecessors had a traditional and experienced halfback in their No.7 jersey.

Seven men have filled the jumper but the majority of them have been a mixture of five-eighths or better-known play-making utilities.

Benji Marshall played the most games (55) but he will long be regarded as a running five-eighth whose combination with Gareth Widdop never really took off.

Ben Hunt in Broncos colours.

Ben Hunt in Broncos colours.

Josh McCrone and Nathan Fien also spent just as much time at No.6, hookers or bench utilities as they have in the No.7 role.

"The halfback position was something we hadn't had at the club for a long time so that was our main priority," McGregor said.

"You don't like to lose players along the way like we have but I feel like our squad of 30 now is the best balance of the squad."

Hunt set up 102 tries for the Broncos after taking over their No.7 jersey in 2014 and has guided them to the finals in every year since.

His impact on the Dragons will be seen in not just his actions on the ball but the way he will be able to free up Widdop, who has an experienced organising half outside him for the first time since he paired with Cooper Cronk in Melbourne.

The duo impressed in the Dragons' two pre-season trials without setting the world on fire but McGregor is confident they're ready for Thursday night's clash at Jubilee Oval.

Hunt also has the backing of Wayne Bennett, who said the club had no choice but to let him go following the monster-sized deal from the Dragons last year.

But the master coach expected his former general would have no issues living up to the pressure and expectation of the contract.

"The expectation is so high here (at Brisbane), so he is used to expectation, I don't think it would worry him at all," Bennett said.

"Ben can deliver on all that. I don't think it is something he should worry about."


* Brisbane have won 12 of the past 13 matches between the teams.

* The Dragons have won 10 of their last 12 matches at Kogarah.

* Matt Lodge will play his first NRL match since June 2015 for Brisbane.

Australian Associated Press