Old radio sparring partners Phil ‘Buzz’ Rothfield and Michael Clarke have butted heads again in a civil, but passionate, debate over whether St George-Illawara should let Ben Hunt go immediately or make him serve out the rest of the year at least.
Hunt’s short-term future is set to be decided on Monday when he meets with the club — and incoming coach Shane Flanagan — to discuss his request for an immediate release.
There are reports the champion halfback could join NRL ladder leaders Brisbane for the rest of the season, before joining the Gold Coast Titans on a permanent deal from 2024.
The mooted move has sparked plenty of backlash from NRL fans and pundits, with former Australian cricket captain Clarke among those who do not believe it is fair a player of Hunt’s stature could temporarily join the Broncos’ premiership tilt this season.
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But veteran Daily Telegraph reporter Rothfield said he had a “strong view” it was in the Dragons’ best interest to cut Hunt loose now, get something from the Broncos in return, and commence planning their rebuild aimed at long-term success.
“You saw the scoreline on Friday, 48-18 (loss to the Warriors), you saw Ben Hunt at the press conference. He was broken, busted, completely nowhere to go,” Rothfield said on the Big Sports Breakfast on Monday
“Now I look at it this way, the Dragons we all know need a long-term, big picture rebuild. They need a complete reboot and it needs to start today.
“There are so many positives in them allowing Ben Hunt to go. No.1 they can negotiate a player swap. No.2 they can get compensation and transfer money for next year’s cap.
“No.3 without Ben Hunt’s salary next year they can save $1.2 million and go out and sign some leaders. Like Craig Fitzgibbon did at Cronulla … you bring it people like (Cameron) McInnes, (Dale) Finucane, (Nicho) Hynes. You bring in leaders as much as you bring in footballers.
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“This is a long-term strategy for St George Illawarra. What is the point of keeping Ben Hunt this year? The year is gone, you saw the other night .. what’s the point of keeping him next year? St George have got to build for long-term, sustainable success. The only way you do that is use his money to bring in players who want to be there.”
Rothfield said he didn’t understand the issue with Hunt potentially switching teams immediately, claiming there was minimal backlash when Tevita Pangai Jr joined Penrith in a similar move two seasons ago.
Read below for Rothfield and Clarke’s back-and-forth debate over the issue that has the rugby league world divided, or listen to the full audio here.
Michael Clarke: I’m all for you sign your contract, you finish your contract but that’s gonenow
Phil Rothfield: (interrupts)
MC: Hang on, let me finish please. That’s gone so let’s assume he’s going to leave . isn’t the most respectful way to do that, for everyone involved .. and for the betterment of the Dragons to move forward and build for the future .. and also for Ben Hunt to exit as gently as he can then go to a new club … would it not be (better) just to finish the season. No matter what, win, lose, draw, chaos continues … would it not just be cleaner and the most respectful way for both parties? Even for the fans, pay that respect to the fans.
PR: Clarkey, I can understand all sides of the argument and you do make a point. But you seem to think while he was in Origin camp was the first time he made it clear that he wanted out. That’s when he went public. Four weeks ago his manager rang (Ben harrow) and said Ben is not happy with what’s been happening at this club .. I haven’t got time here to list all of the problems they’ve had. And he’s had the players coming to him complaining about it
MC: Yeah but that happens in every sporting team. When you’re the leader .. don’t tell me Brisbane (players) don’t go to Adam Reynolds. That is your responsibility as the leader
PR: Yeah OK if we did it your way, why not get him to serve out his contract
MC: No, I’m not, OK. Did you hear what I just said?
PR: Ok, you’re saying this year…
MC: In my opinion, I would hold him to .. if you sign a contract as a player — and this is how I play my sport — then I stay until my contract is over. Once my contract is over then I can do whatever I want. But I’ve also said in the same breath a club can’t ask that from a player if the club is not going to do the same in return.
PR: Yeah but…
MC: That one is gone. He’s not going to serve out his contract … I’m saying do it in the gentlest way
PR: And ignore the opportunity to do a negotiation with the Broncos and sign one of their best players in return. Ignore the opportunity to..
MC: I don’t think that’s right to go to Brisbane though Buzz. If he’s going to go to Brisbane and stay there, fair enough. I don’t think it’s right that he should go to a club for the remainder of the season and then go to his final destination. I don’t like that
PR: Did you say that about Tevita Pangai Jr?
MC: I didn’t like that either, Buzz. I don’t like that
PR: But what I’m saying to you that you’re failing to come to grips with, is this is an opportunity for Shane Flanagan to plan long-term
MC: How is it an opportunity for Shane Flanagan when he’s got to stay at Manly right now for the rest of the season? Shane Flanagan is not at the Dragons
PR: Yeah but having Ben Hunt for the rest of the season and ignoring the money you can get and the player swap you can get, there’s absolutely no point
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The debate continued when Clarke questioned what the Dragons could actually do with the financial windfal that would come from cutting ties with Hunt.
MC: Who can they get Buzz? Who are some of the players that we are saying is going to be a better buy or a better swap then Ben Hunt and Ben Hunt at the moment, I think everyone is saying he’s in the top 5 players in the NRL. Is that a fair call?
PR: No. He’s not in the top five players, no. He’s paid among the top five players but I don’t regard him among the top five players.
MC: He’s been unbelievable in the NRL for the past couple of years
PR: Yeah he’s been a great player
MC: So who can they get then that’s close to that?
PR: I’m looking at their roster as we speak .. I’m not sure who’s available … it could be anyone. Shane Flanagan’s got to have this meeting today, decide whether they’re going to let him go, then ring Kevin Walters and get into a negotiation, and they’re not going to get a like-for-like player. But there are so many outstanding young players at that club who would fit into a long-term rebuild at the Dragons. I don’t think their fans want to have a good year next year, I think their fans would prefer to have a great long-term sustainable plan for the next decade and that’s what Flanagan’s got to do.