Hooker Hunt helps solve Saints' middle

Dragon Ben Hunt's (R) move to hooker may solve St George Illawarra's issues in the middle.
Dragon Ben Hunt's (R) move to hooker may solve St George Illawarra's issues in the middle.

Ben Hunt's move to starting hooker for St George Illawarra could help solve the Dragons other big NRL issue: how to fill the Jack de Belin sized hole in their middle.

Hunt started at No.9 for the first time in the Dragons' colours and Cameron McInnes at lock in their 34-4 flogging of Manly on Sunday.

The win was easily their best performance of the year, as they moved to within two points of the top eight.

The Saints' spine clearly began to click, with Adam Clune having his best game of the year and Hunt looking unfazed getting through a full game at dummy-half.

But while much of the focus has been on the Dragons' key positions in attack, the rejigged spine is fixing other issues too.

Still without the stood-down de Belin and having released James Graham, McInnes has improved to the point where he is one of the game's form locks despite playing out of position.

"We need a long-minute player on the field in the minute," coach Paul McGregor said.

"We haven't had that for a long period of time because Jack hasn't been here and you lose a fair minute player in James Graham as well.

"I feel Cam's game expanding at No.13. He is getting in behind the ruck when he needs to get a quick pkay the ball for us. He can ball play.

"Defensively he is as good as any out there. He has a really high work rate, he fits that bill well."

McGregor confirmed he would definitely stay with the new look for Saturday's clash with Canterbury, and there is every indication it could be the Dragons' fit for the season.

Hunt made 45 tackles in the middle on Sunday night - the most of his NRL career - and also kicked out of dummy-half 10 times.

"Cam hasn't played a lot of 13, and Ben has played at Origin and Australia at No.9, but not club level week to week," McGregor said.

"And No.9 for Benny we get a kicking option out of there which is on show as well. And he gets our dummy-half moving so he does it well.

"If they can play the 80 minutes at the speed they are and do what they did tonight, it's looking good for the team."

Crucial to all that, McGregor stressed, has been the form of rookie Clune who is now looking settled in the halves.

"Adam Clune is the one we're not talking about in the spine at the moment," McGregor said.

"He's making that jumper his own.

"It's very hard to move a young guy who is improving on a weekly basis."

Australian Associated Press