Bennett reveals reason why Hunt was dropped
WAYNE Bennett has revealed Ben Hunt's abandoned running game is behind both the star halfback's shock axing and Kodi Nikorima's inheritance of the No.7 jumper next season.
In one of the biggest selection calls of Bennett's storied stint at Red Hill, Hunt has been dumped to reserve grade this weekend and will turn out for Ipswich a day after Brisbane hosts the Rabbitohs tomorrow night.
Nikorima, who missed last week's loss to the Roosters due to a shoulder concern, returns to the scrum base against Souths with Bennett boldly declaring "there's no doubt Kodi will be the halfback here next year".
The master mentor dismissed any suggestion that Hunt's own 2018 move to the Dragons on a $6 million deal was behind the shock demotion.
Instead it's the evaporation of what was once the most potent running game in the comp, coupled with Benji Marshall's renaissance, that has cost Hunt the starting spot he spent the first five years of his career struggling to nail down.
"Ben's come back from injury but his form hasn't been where he's wanted it to be," Bennett said of Hunt's axing, coming two games into his return from a six-week hamstring injury.
"It wasn't an easy decision but it's been made.
"He's an important part of our club, he remains so and we don't think that he'll be out of first grade too long.
"He just needs to go back and get a couple of things right in his game.
"We need him to run the ball more. He's one of the best ball-runners in the game.
"To play rugby league, one of the criterias in the job description is run the ball."
There's arguably no better place for Hunt to rediscover his running game than Ipswich, which plays the most freewheeling rugby league in the game under former Broncos Shane and Ben Walker.
But in a stark illustration of just how impotent Hunt's greatest offensive weapon has become, the 27-year-old has broken the line just once in eight games this year.
Tellingly, since returning from injury against the Warriors a fortnight ago, Hunt has averaged just 2.5 runs for 22 metres in back-to back losses, as both Nikorima and then Marshall threatened more with ball-in-hand.
In the five straight victories Nikorima spent deputising for Hunt at halfback, the young utility averaged 5.8 runs and 56 metres a game.
Having been hotly pursued by Melbourne last year, Nikorima has now been rewarded for his perseverance at Red Hill with a short and long-term crack at the coveted playmaking role.
The 23-year-old, who has a 2018 option in his favour as talks of a new Broncos deal continue, is the benefactor of both Hunt's fall and looming departure.
"He was under a lot of pressure to go to other clubs," Bennett said of Nikorima.
"We convinced him to stay here and we've always thought he had a long-term future here. It was just a case of where that was.
"But now with Ben making his decision to go it has opened up an opportunity for Kodi and there's no doubt Kodi will be the halfback here next year."
Bennett also confirmed the club is keen to keep Marshall on deck in 2018 as well when Jack Bird arrives from Cronulla.
Marshall will come on to the Broncos bench against Souths after showing glimpses of his best with a try and two assists in last week's loss to the Roosters.
"He wanted an opportunity and we gave him that," Bennett said.
"He is coming back to the Benji form of old.
"He is enjoying his footy again. He has been outstanding at the club.
"We are keen to keep him here. He's a valued player."