St George Illawarra halfback Ben Hunt has reached out to former team-mate Josh McGuire after death threats and abuse by social media trolls forced the North Queensland enforcer to approach Cowboys officials about mental health support.
Hunt sought professional help himself 12 months ago after being worn down by the vitriol directed towards him over the Dragons' late-season slump and has been in regular contact with McGuire since last Thursday night’s Cowboys-Broncos match.
The Maroons and Kangaroos forward has been the subject of a relentless on-line hate campaign after being reported and subsequently suspended for a facial on David Fifita, which resulted in his third contrary conduct charge of the season.
Hunt played with McGuire at Brisbane and the Dragons playmaker said he had been trying to help his representative team-mate deal with the abuse, which prompted McGuire’s wife Tanyssa to go public with details of death threats against him.
“I am really good mates with Josh and I know he has been doing it tough the last couple of weeks,” Hunt said.
“He is a great fellow, if you know him off the field you will get along with him really well. Obviously some things have happened on the field that I am sure he is probably not proud of and he seems to be copping a fair bit for it.
“I have had little chats with him in the last week. They are not crazy chats or anything but I know what he is going through.
“It is obviously a tough time for him and his family as well. It filters down, it is not just the player it is his wife, kids, his mum and dad, it’s everyone. He has a lot of brothers and it has hurt them as well, it is not just the player it filters down to everyone in his family.”
Hunt said suggestions McGuire had tried to eye-gouge Fifita were wide of the mark and he remained good mates with most of the Broncos players after playing 10 seasons for the club before joining North Queensland this year.
“There is no malice in it, he is not trying to hurt anyone on purpose or anything like that,” Hunt said.
“Josh is just a fiery player and he plays with a lot of energy and he is such a competitor. He really wants to win all the time and obviously coming up against his old club he was determined to get one over them.
“I know that he is great mates with most of those boys there and I am sure they had a chat after the game and there would be no bad feelings among them.”
The trolling of McGuire on social media coincided with abuse of Wests Tigers centre Paul Momirovski after he missed a conversion attempt on fulltime that would have sent last Saturday night’s match against Canterbury into extra time and a racial attack on Sydney Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell.
However, it is not just on social media that players are being targeted, with staff at at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium revealing that Hunt and other Dragons stars were abused as they walked from the field after falling out of finals contention with their Round 20 12-4 loss to Parramatta.
“It’s always there, I just think it has been highlighted this week,” Hunt said.
“Players have been copping it for years and it is not going to get any easier, I don’t think.
“There is always going to be people on social media who hide behind their phones and computers and what not, and say what they want to say without being accountable for it. The best advice I can give if it is going to continue is just to stay off it. Don’t listen to advice from people who you don’t go looking for advice from.”
Meanwhile, Hunt said he was starting to regain confidence and form after the physical and mental toll of playing three Origin matches at hooker for Queensland required him to be rested from the Round 19 match against South Sydney.
Hunt said re-uniting with captain Gareth Widdop after his return from a shoulder injury sustained in Round 3 had been a boost to him and the other members of the Dragons spine, while his performance in last Saturday’s 40-28 defeat of Gold Coast showed how much he had been missed.
“Gaz was exceptional, Corey [Norman] was good and I thought Cam [McInness] played really well. The things we worked on during the week and the plays we wanted to put on came together. We just stuck at our plan and it came off,” Hunt said.
“There have been a lot of ‘what ifs’ this season and not having Gaz is one. He is such a classy player, and another one is not having Jack de Belin. I train against him every week and he is carving us up with the reserve grade boys so not having those two guys for the major part of the year really hurt us.”