Star recruit uses inside knowledge to upset Brisbane
Wayne Bennett must wish he'd asked Ben Hunt to sign a non-disclosure agreement when he left the Brisbane Broncos after the St George Illawarra Dragons star recruit took advantage of inside information to spark his new club to an impressive 34-12 win.
With the opening game of the 2018 Telstra Premiership delicately poised in the second half, Hunt sprinted out of the Dragons defensive line after recognising a familiar play to snatch a pass intended for his former halves partner Anthony Milford and race 45 metres to score.
It was the moment that confirmed to the Dragons faithful in the 14,451 crowd at Jubilee Oval and those watching on television that the money the club had spent and the 12 months they'd had to wait for a top-shelf playmaker had been worth it.
The fact it was controversial Broncos prop Matthew Lodge who threw the intercept pass was all the sweeter after many of those in attendance had spent the 50 minutes of the match up to that point booing his every involvement.
However, Hunt was the man they had come to see and the 27-year-old Test and Origin star lived up to expectations in his first Telstra Premiership match in the Red V.
Besides his 50th-minute solo effort, Hunt laid on the only try of the first half for second-rower Tyson Frizell, and produced a number of other plays likely to result in points when team-mates become more used to playing with him.
On one occasion early in the match, Frizell ran into a hole seemingly unaware that Hunt was going to pass the ball to him, while five-eighth Gareth Widdop was offside when he snatched a reverse kick from the air and crashed over the try line.
Hunt's kicking game was another area he made a noticeable difference for the Dragons and he eased the pressure off Widdop by taking responsibility for most of the kicks at the end of sets, and forced a number of goal-line dropouts and errors, including a spilled bomb by Broncos winger Joseph Isaako.
Without the responsibility to be the chief playmaker and less scrutiny from the opposition defence, Widdop had more freedom to roam and he used a fullback-type play by sweeping behind the attack to create an overlap for Euan Aitkin’s 60th-minute try.
Winger Jason Nightingale's 78th minute try featured a similar play as the Dragons completed a five tries to two rout of the Broncos and another winning start to the season under Paul McGregor's coaching.
In contrast, the Broncos clearly missed Hunt's direction and decision making at the end of sets, while their forwards were outgunned by an enthusiastic and aggressive Dragons pack.
Any concerns about the Dragons defence in their pre-season fixtures against Hull FC and South Sydney Rabbitohs proved to be unfounded as Frizell, James Graham and Jack De Belin dominated their Broncos rivals.
After spending the previous 10 days working on their physicality in defence, many of the Broncos 13 errors were the result of big hits by the Dragons forwards.
Lodge was the only Broncos forward to run more than 100 metres with the ball but he had a return to the NRL to forget after being smashed by Frizell in his first carry with the ball, conceding a number of errors and penalties, and throwing the intercept pass for Hunt’s try.
In comparison, Graham, Frizell, Paul Vaughan and Leeson Ah Mau all carried the ball for more than 100 metres for the Dragons to enable Hunt and Widdop to call the shots behind a dominant forward pack.
Overall, the Dragons ran the ball 1385 metres to the 892 metres by the Broncos, who were forced to make 292 tackles to 209 by their opponents after having just 42 per cent of possession.
The move to start with Sam Thaiday at hooker failed to produce dividends for the Broncos and several of his passes went astray, while the service from dummy half was understandably slower than Andrew McCullough provided when he came off the bench.
The crackdown by match officials on the play-the-ball resulted in a slower game and both teams took time to adjust but once they did the Dragons looked a much better side.