Meninga has backed Hunt to beat the critics. (AAP Image/Craig Golding)
Meninga has backed Hunt to beat the critics. (AAP Image/Craig Golding)

Meninga: How Hunt can hurt Brisbane

MY ADVICE to Ben Hunt is simple: Run the ball, kick the ball and make your tackles.

It sounds ridiculously simple, and it is. But I am certain this is the message that Paul McGregor would be giving his halfback this weekend.

I think the Dragons are a very good chance of beating Brisbane on Sunday, and to do it, Hunt will need to be at his best.

 

Meninga has backed Hunt to beat the critics. (Brett Costello)
Meninga has backed Hunt to beat the critics. (Brett Costello)

 

The return of Gareth Widdop at No.6 will allow Hunt to be what Dragons fans want him to be: Himself.

With Widdop back, Ben doesn't need to worry about running the team.

Gareth is a very good organiser, and gives the Dragons very good structure.

Most importantly, he makes a huge difference to Ben's mindset - he is no longer expected to do it on his own.

 

Widdop’s return is a huge boost. (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)
Widdop’s return is a huge boost. (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)

 

Ben doesn't need to worry about next weekend, or what happened last week. All he needs to worry about is doing his job.

His job is to run.

Running the ball will get him involved in the game, and it will boost his confidence because he is very good at it.

Ben is extremely hard to contain with the ball in his hand because of his speed and strength, and he has a quality off-load in him as well.

If he starts using those skills, he will get results. That will in turn lift his confidence, and will encourage him to do even more.

He will drag the rest of the Dragons along in his wake.

 

De Belin’s fitness remains a doubt. (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)
De Belin’s fitness remains a doubt. (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

 

St George Illawarra will miss Paul Vaughan enormously, but with De Belin, Sims, Frizell and Graham, they still have one of the best packs in the competition.

If the Dragons win the forward battle to suffocate Brisbane's halves, then they will be tough to beat.

The other factor in the Dragons' favour is defence. They have had a few blow-outs late in the season, but operate well without the ball.

Defence and big-game players win finals matches.

Brisbane have enough inexperience and question marks over their defence for the Dragons to think they are a good chance at Suncorp Stadium.

We all know that the finals are an entirely new season.

The Dragons' patchy end to the regular season now means nothing.

The pressure is off them, because everyone is just expecting them to fold against an in-form Brisbane.

And that is what makes the Dragons so dangerous.

No pressure, no expectations and with Gareth Widdop back to run the show.

It has a repeat of Round 1 written all over it.

Here's how I see the other finals shaping up:

Storm v Rabbitohs

Souths are running into form at the right time, their key players are returning from injury fit and refreshed, and they are clearly enjoying their football.

The Bunnies easily meet my "big name" criteria with Inglis, Gagai, Cook, Sutton, Crichton and Burgess (times three).

Melbourne look underdone and missing too many good players.

Souths are on a roll - a roll that can take them all the way to the grand final.

 

Have the Panthers run out of steam? (AAP Image/David Rowland)
Have the Panthers run out of steam? (AAP Image/David Rowland)

 

Panthers v Warriors

The key to the Warriors' season has been their form away from home - they won eight of 12 games away from Auckland this year.

So the prospect of playing the Panthers in Sydney will hold no fear for them.

The Panthers are struggling to regain their feet after some poor performances and late-season turmoil.

Penrith are done. The Warriors will win.

Dylan Napa is a huge loss. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Dylan Napa is a huge loss. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

 

Roosters v Sharks

The Sharks are the only consistent team in the top eight.

Yes, the Roosters looked good last week beating up a desperately poor Parramatta, but the Sharks will be a different prospect entirely.

With Dylan Napa missing, Cronulla will take the Roosters into a grind.

If the Roosters are willing to grind with them, they can win. But I don't think they will.

The Sharks just have too much mongrel in them.

 

The Bulldogs hurt their club and the game. (Toby Zerna)
The Bulldogs hurt their club and the game. (Toby Zerna)

 

WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?

IT IS difficult to tell who woke up with the bigger hangover after the Bulldogs' Mad Monday "celebrations" this week - the players or the game.

Out of everything that has been written and said about the Bulldogs' behaviour, the opinions I found hardest to understand were those trying to paint the Bulldogs players as victims who were guilty of nothing more than "boys being boys".

They will argue that no one was hurt, no damage was caused and no harm was done.

Presumably they did not include rugby league's image and reputation as part of that stocktake.

Last year the players demanded more money from the game, arguing for an increased share of the game's revenue on the basis of them becoming "part-owners" of the game who would stand to gain financially from the game's growth and success.

 

It’s not exactly a good look, is it. (Christian Gilles)
It’s not exactly a good look, is it. (Christian Gilles)

 

This, they argued, would make them caretakers and protectors of the game.

"Boys will be boys" is not the mantra of professionals, or caretakers of the game.

Vomiting, sleeping on a footpath and getting nude in public are not the biggest crimes in the world.

But they are particularly damaging for a game trying to distance itself from a history of such anti-social behaviour and prove itself as an elite-level sport among the minds of the sporting public and corporate Australia.

The players demanded to be paid and treated as professionals. It might be time to start acting like it.

 

 

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