Ben Hunt believes a relationship that begun two decades ago with Andrew McCullough has had a greater influence on his impressive start to the season than taking on the Dragons captaincy.
While Hunt is relishing the responsibility of leading St George Illawarra each week, he is also thriving on the familiar dummy-half service from McCullough after the former Queensland Origin hooker's arrival from Brisbane during the pre-season.
The pair first met at a regional Queensland schoolboys tournament in 2002, where Hunt was five-eighth for Capricornia and McCullough represented Darling Downs in the same position.
Both were selected in the Queensland under-12s team and they later lived together for a few years while playing for the Broncos, where Hunt and McCullough spent a decade as teammates at under-20s and NRL level.
When McCullough joined the Dragons last month, he and wife Carlie moved in with Hunt and his wife Bridget until they found a place of their own.
"We played 10-odd years together and lived together for a long time," Hunt said of McCullough.
"It didn't take much for him to get here and learn what we were doing and what our plays were called and it all just fell back in together.
"It's not massive things, it's just little technicalities in the game, he squares up the markers well, he's obviously a great defender and he knows how to get the ball to the right places when it needs to be there."
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Hunt was man-of-the-match in St George Illawarra's defeat of North Queensland last Saturday night and he was arguably their best player in the previous week's loss to Cronulla.
While some have attributed his form to him taking over the captaincy this season, Hunt said the responsibility had not really changed the way he played or prepared for games.
"When it comes to game day the only other thing I do is do the coin toss before," Hunt said. "I probably talk a bit more to different players but I don't think I put myself under more pressure, it's all about doing to my role."
The backing of new Dragons coach Anthony Griffin, who previously coached him, McCullough and five-eighth Corey Norman at the Broncos has helped, particularly as he is now firmly entrenched at halfback.
"Having Hook here putting his confidence in me, really driving it into me through the preseason and demanding a lot out of me has probably got the biggest bearing on how I've performed the first couple of games," Hunt said.
Manly coach Des Hasler identified Hunt as a danger man for his side as they seek their first of the season against the Dragons at WIN Stadium on Friday night.
"Ben is a quality player, he is a rep player and he is an Origin player, and he looks settled so he is dangerous," Hasler said.
"I think we have really got to be aware of his strengths but he is certainly playing well and you can see the air of confidence that he has."
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The Sea Eagles have not won a match in Wollongong since 2003 and Hasler said he was prepared for another tough encounter with the Dragons.
"The times I have been involved at WIN Stadium, if any kind of controversy is going to come out of the game it will be there plus there is the elements as well, but those things you can't control," Hasler said.
Manly will again be without star fullback Tom Trbojevic and Hasler ruled out him returning in next Thursday night's match against Penrith but indicated he may be a chance for the following week's clash with the Warriors.