Dragons coach Anthony Griffin believes he and experienced assistants Matthew Elliott and Peter Gentle can help overcome an on-field leadership void and get the best out of Ben Hunt.
While Cameron McInnes remains an inspirational captain, the Dragons have lost three of the other four members of the club’s leadership group in the past 12 months. Gareth Widdop and James Graham returned to England and Tyson Frizell departed for Newcastle.
Hunt, five-eighth Corey Norman and forwards Paul Vaughan, Tariq Sims and Trent Merrin are the next most experienced St George Illawarra players – although the latter was not a regular member of the starting line-up last season.
New recruit Jack Bird (87), fullback Matt Dufty (67) and prop Blake Lawrie (58) are the only other Dragons players to have made more than 50 NRL appearances.
Griffin, who has coached 173 NRL matches during seven seasons with Brisbane and Penrith, identified leadership as an area that needed to be developed at St George Illawarra and bought Elliott and Gentle on board to help achieve that.
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Elliott has coached 240 NRL matches with Canberra, Penrith and the Warriors, while Gentle - the interim coach at the Broncos last season - was a long-time assistant of Tim Sheens at Wests Tigers before taking on the Hull FC job in 2014 and 2015.
"Matthew and Peter are both experienced coaches in their own rights, they have both been around for a long time and I thought it was important that we got as much experience in here as we could," Griffin said.
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"I think the playing group at the moment needs that. It is not a player-driven group at the moment so we need a really experienced coaching staff at the moment to help them really learn and guide them through the next 18-months."
After coaching Hunt at Brisbane until 2014, Griffin will be looking to the representative playmaker to step up for the Dragons next year after a season in which he shifted between halfback, hooker and five-eighth and was dropped from the Queensland team for the Origin decider.
Griffin said where Hunt played next season depended on his form and attitude as Adam Clune, Jayden Sullivan and Norman are also vying for positions in the halves.
"It doesn’t bother me what they are worth, it is just what they can do for the team," Griffin said in response to questions about Hunt’s $1 million pay packet.
"Everyone is training really well so they will all get their chance in time.
"I just think he has got a lot more potential in him to unlock and Ben knows that. Everyone here wouldn’t be happy with what has happened here the last couple of years so hopefully, I will be able to help him do that."
Asked what he was looking for from Hunt, Griffin said: "Hard work, honesty, leadership. All of those things that have got to be important to him if he is going to have a serious crack".
Bird is still recovering from knee surgery that forced him to miss the entire 2020 season and is expected to start training with his new team-mates in mid-January.
Griffin said no decision had been made about where the former NSW Origin utility would play but centre and the back-row are positions where the Dragons appear to be light on.
"He is still a really young man, he is fit, he has been a little bit out of luck injury-wise but everything I have seen so far from the way he is moving at the moment and where his mind is at he is really gearing up for a big season," Griffin said
"I am looking forward to getting him back to his best. He has played about half a dozen games in the last two years so he will take a little bit of time to find his feet."
Former Blues lock Jack de Belin is not expected to resume training until January as he prepares to face a re-trial on sexual assault charges in Sydney next April.