THE 14,457 fans who filed into to Jubilee Oval for Thursday’s NRL season-opener arrived with plenty of questions.
How would Ben Hunt fare in his first outing against his former club? What reception would Matt Lodge get from fans in his NRL return? What can the Red V faithful expect from their side in 2018?
The answer to all three questions came in the 50th minute minute when Hunt latched onto a wayward pass from Lodge and raced 45 metres to score and take a 16-6 lead for his side.
It was the low point of a forgettable night for Lodge, who was flattened by Tyson Frizell on his first carry and booed mercilessly with his every touch.
He raised his first cheer when he spilled the ball cold in the 15th minute. The only relief for the Lodge was that he got game one out of the way. Dragons coach Paul McGregor was probably thinking the same thing after his side opened their account with a 34-12 win.
The intercept was part of Hunt’s emphatic answer to question number one after he laid on Tyson Frizell’s 28th minute try with a deft grubber from dummy-half and put Gareth Widdop over with another kick, only for his skipper to be ruled offside.
It was a standout performance Dragons coach Paul McGregor said came as no surprise.
“I thought both our halves really dominated the game which is good,” McGregor said.
“Those two [Hunt and Widdop] are going to work well together. They’re going to be better as they play more footy.
“If you look at Gareth and Ben, Ben’s a genuine [number] seven and Gareth’s a genuine six.
“Gareth’s bottomless talent and he likes to play instinctive footy whereas, when you wear the seven, you’ve got to execute a game plan and a kicking game.
“Ben likes to go to the game like Gareth so you’ve got two competitive players on the football field. I think they complement each other really well and that was just the start of something we can build over the year.”
It was a standout performance in an at times scrappy affair, especially where the visitors were concerned, completing at just 50 per cent in the opening stanza.
The hosts were slightly better at 75 per cent, but it was enough to lead 10-2 at halftime on the back of Frizell’s try and two penalty goals to Widdop.
The Broncos could manage just Anthony Milford’s eighth-minute penalty goal in response with Corey Oates’ disallowed try in the 22nd minute their only foray into the Dragons in-goal in the opening 40.
It didn’t take them long to breakthrough in the second however, with James Roberts crossing seven minutes after the resumption to get his side back within four.
Hunt’s 50th minute dash and Euan Aitken’s barge-over effort nine minutes later looked enough to seal the result. Roberts’ second four-pointer gave the Broncos a sniff down the stretch at 24-12 before tries to Jack de Belin and Jason Nightingale in the 73rd and 78th minute put paid to any comeback.