Hunt better equipped for NRL pressure after rollercoaster season

Ben Hunt believes he is now better equipped to cope with the scrutiny on the game's top playmakers after a rollercoaster season with St George Illawarra and Queensland.

Hunt, who will perform the role of bench utility for Australia in Saturday's trans-Tasman Test against New Zealand in Auckland, was hailed as a saviour by Dragons fans at the start of the season but before the end of it he'd felt the need to seek professional help after becoming a target for disgruntled supporters.

He also lost the Queensland No.7 jersey to recalled Kangaroos halfback Daly Cherry-Evans after Origin II and had to endure further criticism for deciding to run the ball – instead of kicking it – on St George Illawarra's last play in their epic 13-12 semi-final defeat by South Sydney, which led to Adam Reynolds kicking his third field goal of the match.

The fallout was enough to prompt Hunt to consider a switch to hooker but he declared on the eve of his fifth Test appearance for Australia that he is now better prepared to deal with the constant focus on the performances of NRL playmakers.

"It's about handling the expectations and pressure that comes with those positions, and learning how to best deal with it," Hunt said.

"It was very difficult but I look back on it as a big learning curve for myself. I haven't quite been through such a difficult stage of my career and I didn't really know how to handle it.

"Now I have been through it I have got a grasp on it. If it happens again in the future I will be able to deal with it better."

Hunt's endurance and versatility has earned him the support of Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga, who chose him as the back-up dummy half for Cameron Smith during last year's World Cup campaign and had no hesitation in selecting him for the role again against New Zealand.

The 28-year-old's preferred position remains halfback but he is happy to play hooker or come off the bench in a jack-in-the-box middle forward's role as Cherry-Evans, Michael Morgan and Kalyn Ponga have done for Queensland or Australia.

"Mal wants me to bring a lot of energy off the bench, and line speed and things like that in defence," Hunt said. "With the ball, he wants me to be a bit creative in the middle using our forwards rather than one-out hit-ups.

"He has told me he has got a lot of faith in me and believes I can play good footy. It wasn't the best back end of the season and for him to be loyal to me I am really grateful."

Meninga has also told Hunt to be prepared to play dummy half if new Kangaroos hooker Damien Cook needs a spell and he is more than comfortable in that role after playing there for Brisbane last year when Andrew McCullough was out injured.  

"Long-term I really like playing halfback and I enjoy that but if any team wants me to pick me to play hooker it is a position I found I am pretty good at and I can handle it," Hunt said.