Alfie’s curse: Broncos whiz-kid told he must be perfect
Dragons rival Ben Hunt has warned Tom Dearden of the pressures of wearing the famous Brisbane No. 7 jumper, admitting the Broncos expect "perfection" in their quest to find the next Allan Langer.
Hunt played 187 games for Brisbane, including 103 in the No. 7 jumper, and returns to familiar terrain on Friday night with a Dragons side eyeing a hit-and-run road victory over the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium.
The Broncos have struggled for a long-term halfback since Langer's retirement 18 years ago and Brisbane thought they had found their man in Hunt, who fell agonisingly short of steering the club to the 2015 premiership.
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Since Hunt's move to the Dragons in 2018, the Broncos have road-tested a number of halfbacks, including Kodi Nikorima, Sean O'Sullivan, Jake Turpin, Brodie Croft and now 19-year-old whiz-kid Dearden.
Hunt believes Dearden has the skill-set to be Brisbane's next long-time halfback but admits the brilliance of Langer can be crushing burden for any man handed the Broncos No. 7 jumper.
"The hardest thing about being the Broncos halfback is if you aren't perfect, the critics are coming for you," said Hunt, who will start at hooker on Friday night against his former club.
"If you are playing great every week, then they want to axe you and put a new halfback in there.
"It's all bloody 'Alfie's' fault. "Langer was so great that he set the bar so high for the rest of us halfbacks. You get crucified if you don't deliver week in, week out.
"I like the look of Dearden. I have only seen a few of his games but from what I have seen he is a classy little player.
"I have met him a couple of times but, watching what he does, I think he has the makings to be the halfback the Broncos are looking for."
Hunt played in Brisbane's heartbreaking 2015 grand-final loss to the Cowboys with six current Broncos - Darius Boyd, Corey Oates, Jordan Kahu, Anthony Milford, Alex Glenn and Joe Ofahengaue.
For that reason, Brisbane's freefall to 15th place - and their cultural decay under besieged coach Anthony Seibold - has left him bitterly disappointed.
"I have been extremely shocked by what's happened at the Broncos," he said. "Every few days a new drama seems to be happening at the Broncos, it's been crazy and I feel pretty sad about the fall of the Broncos.
"I still really love that club, I watch every game they play and I have great memories from being up there.
"To see all the stuff going on and to know I have some good teammates from my time there struggling and hurting, it's makes me really sad for them.
"Brisbane have always been a competitive club up in finals contention and it's hard to see where they are because I know the boys want to win and are fighting hard each week but confidence is down.
"I'm good mates with Alex Glenn and 'Milf' and I know what it's like to not be winning when you are trying your guts out."
$1M TAG 'HAUNTS' DRAGONS STAR HUNT
Broncos veteran Issac Luke believes his former teammate Ben Hunt is "haunted" by his $1 million price tag as the Dragons utility declared he would not give up hope of reclaiming his halfback spot.
On the eve of Friday night's Broncos-Dragons clash at Suncorp Stadium, Luke fears Hunt has felt the searing pressures of the $6 million contract that saw him labelled the Red V's great premiership hope.
Since his arrival at the Dragons in 2018, Hunt has shown glimpses of magic at halfback, only to be axed to the bench in June following the Dragons' poor start to the season.
Hunt will start at hooker on Friday night, providing service to halves Corey Norman and Adam Clune and Luke, the former Dragons rake, says the Queensland Origin star is a prisoner of being the Red V's highest-paid player.
"For Benny, it's about playing his game … a lot of things haunt him," said Luke, who played three games for the Dragons this year before his move to Brisbane in June.
"But for him, the key is being able to let that go and play footy.
"Anyone that is caught in that so-called $1 million group or the highest-paid group, you are under pressure.
"There was a lot of expectation on Ben and sometimes that expectation goes a bit too far, especially when you are (a critic) watching through a TV screen.
"For Benny, moving (positions) was all about trying to take a lot of that off him, being at hooker, he can do that.
"He doesn't have to come up with the big plays or organise a team. Adam Clune has been controlling the side and he orchestrates what they do in attack."
Hunt, who plays his 248th NRL game tonight, said: "I haven't given up hope of playing halfback again.
"I will be pushing to get myself back in there."
Originally published as Alfie's curse: Broncos whiz-kid told he must be perfect