Hunt's bond with father is a rock in tough times
Through good times and tough times there is one former halfback that St George Illawarra playmaker Ben Hunt can always turn to for an honest and heartfelt word of advice, and that's his father Geoff.
Hunt senior was once a star half in Central Queensland who in 1979 chose an apprenticeship in the mines, where he still works, over an offer by Terry Fearnley to trial with Parramatta.
It was Geoff that Ben leaned on when he had a big decision to make about leaving the Broncos for the Dragons, when both agreed joining a club with a powerhouse pack was the way to go.
It was Geoff who had Ben's back when he was demoted to the Maroons bench ahead of the third State of Origin clash this year, and told him he was good enough to be in that arena and simply to believe in himself.
That is the gist of the message Geoff has for Ben in Sunday's elimination semi-final against the Broncos after the Dragons, including their halfback, have copped plenty of heat for a late season dip in the red-hot form of early rounds.
"I've said to Ben 'you are only one game away from turning that around. Just go out, be confident and don't stop doing the good things you do'," Geoff said.
Talk to Ben for a short time about his father and the desire to honour him on the footy field is palpable.
"It makes me feel good about myself to make dad proud doing something that he possibly could have done, because you hear from a lot of blokes he played with over the years and they all raved that he was a great player," Ben told NRL.com.
"He got the opportunity as a young bloke out of high school to go to Parramatta around that Peter Sterling era when he'd just got an apprenticeship in the mines, but to come down to Sydney in those days wasn't overly good money-wise so he decided to stick with a job that was going to pay him a good living.
"It is special bond we have and he is always someone I've turned to with my footy."
The reason for that is that Geoff knows rugby league and what is best for his son, and he doesn't sugar-coat the message.
"I trust in his opinion. He will tell me how it is," Ben said.
"You always have people who will tell you that you are going better than you are but he will tell me both how I am playing and let me know exactly what I need to do."
That was certainly the case when Ben was weighing up leaving the Broncos last year, a club he never thought he would leave.
"Dad was definitely someone I turned to first because I always trusted his word and his knowledge of footy," he said.
"We thought the Dragons were a good fit. He thinks a lot like me, being a halfback himself, that you've got to look for a good forward pack and the Dragons had a good one."
Geoff will never know what might have transpired had he chosen footy over a trade but he doesn't live his own lost dreams through his son. He's just there as a bulwark of support and the voice of reason. His main messages to Ben centre around belief, confidence and desire.
"I'm proud as punch of what Ben does," Geoff told NRL.com.
"Looking back over the years, I've thought to myself 'could I have made it?' but you just don't know because I never did it. I just always felt that if Ben ever got the opportunity I would support him wherever I could.
"I'm a critic too and I'm not frightened to tell him where I think it is wrong, but I always tell him to believe in himself. I've said two things to him and that is 'if you can keep confident and always have that want, you will play good football'."
Ben has copped plenty of flak for the Dragons' late season slump on social media and from some former players. Geoff said the criticism was unwarranted considering 17 men take the field and not just the half. Overall, he reckoned Ben had dealt with it well.
"Ben is pretty laid back but a lot burns inside that he doesn't let out too," Geoff said.
"He sheds a lot of [the criticism] and it is a good thing that he can do that, and doesn't let it rip-roar.
"I think he understands it though. I always say to him that when the accolades come they always come to the halfback, but when the times are tough you are always going to get criticised as a half.
"I've always thought Mitchell Pearce was hardly done by in Origin and I've said to Ben 'look at Pearcey. You can understand him now'."
Ben had heard from teammates about the wrath of some Dragons fans when wins dry up, but scrutiny is something he is used to.
"Coming from Brisbane, it is not so much the fans but the media getting into you," he said.
"It is something I feel like I have handled throughout my career. I've concentrated on surrounding myself with people I can trust and do the right thing by me."
On Monday, Ben shared time with his father in Rockhampton although they reunited on a sad occasion to farewell family friend and local league stalwart Paul Byrne, who passed away with leukaemia.
It was a day that put rugby league in some perspective.
As for his son's mindset for Sunday's clash, Geoff said it was positive.
"Ben is confident. He is good," he said.
"It's his first year at the Dragons, but he's not finished yet by a long shot."