HUNT­ING FOR RE­DEMP­TION

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - SPORT - PETER BADEL TRAVIS MEYN

BEN Hunt is hun­gry for grand-fi­nal re­demp­tion as the makeshift Bron­cos hooker braces for a sud­den-death show­down with Storm champion Cameron Smith in Mel­bourne on Fri­day night.

It is al­most two years to the day since Hunt suf­fered the low point of his ca­reer, drop­ping the ex­tra-time kick- off that pre­ceded Johnathan Thurston’s field goal in Bris­bane’s dev­as­tat­ing 2015 grand-fi­nal loss.

But Hunt has shown the men­tal re­solve to fight back and he shapes as a crit­i­cal fig­ure in Bris­bane’s blue­print to am­bush the Mel­bourne jug­ger­naut in the pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal at AAMI Park.

Hunt, who will join the Dragons on a $6 mil­lion deal next sea­son, played his fi­nal

home game at Sun­corp Sta­dium on Fri­day night in Bris­bane’s 13-6 semi-fi­nal dis­posal of the Pan­thers.

Now he faces one of the big­gest chal­lenges of his NRL ca­reer – at­tempt­ing to out­point the code’s great­est hooker Smith – as Hunt moves a step closer to the premier­ship ring that cru­elly eluded him.

“It would mean ev­ery­thing to me,” said Hunt of his and Bris­bane’s quest for a grand­fi­nal tri­umph.

“That’s what we are play­ing the game for, you want to get to that big one (the grand fi­nal) and if I can do it in my last year at the Bron­cos ... I will be giv­ing it my best shot.

“Cam Smith is the best hooker of all time and it doesn’t get eas­ier, but we need to fo­cus on the whole Mel­bourne side.

“He steers them around but it’s not just him we have to worry about – they are very good across the park.”

In the ab­sence of in­jured rake Andrew McCul­lough, Hunt was out­stand­ing against the Pan­thers.

Play­ing his sev­enth game at hooker, Hunt set up Corey Oates’ first-half try and pro­duced a se­ries of key de­fen­sive plays, in­clud­ing a late trysaver as the Pan­thers came storm­ing home.

The Ma­roons ace is find­ing his groove in the No.9 jumper and ad­mits the grav- ity of play­ing his fi­nal game at Sun­corp in Bron­cos colours was a source of mo­ti­va­tion.

“My fit­ness has got­ten bet­ter ev­ery week,” he said.

“De­fen­sively I have im­proved. I was miss­ing more tack­les to start off with and I needed to con­trol what I did bet­ter (in de­fence), I needed to make some good con­tact.

“It sunk in dur­ing the warm-up that it would be my last game (at Sun­corp) and in that mo­ment I wanted to en­joy it.

“Once it was all over, I was pumped to get the win.”

The Bron­cos have won at AAMI Park twice in the past two years.

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