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NRL News

Dragons' Hunt downs Lodge, Brisbane

Ben Hunt breathed hope back into long-suffering St George Illawarra fans and rammed home Matt Lodge's tough NRL return with one foul swoop as he set up a 34-12 win over former club Brisbane.

Two of the NRL's biggest pre-season stories collided on Thursday night when $6 million man Hunt intercepted a Lodge pass in the 50th minute to score his first try in Dragons' colours, ending any likely hope of a Brisbane comeback and taking his team to a 16-6 lead.

Rugby league's script writers sure can pen some kind of tale, as the intercept summed up the fortunes of both players in a dramatic opening to the season at Jubilee Oval.

Having not won a finals match since now-Broncos coach Wayne Bennett guided them to the title in 2010, Hunt's impact on the Dragons was immediate.

He set up the Dragons' first try when he grubbered out of dummy-half for the chasing Tyson Frizell, while his long kicking game was equally impressive in the first half.

The Dragons' all-important spine was also much better for his arrival.

Gareth Widdop looked dangerous running the ball in attack, freed up from the burden of having to organise the team alongside makeshift halfbacks since his arrival from Melbourne in 2014.

He struck up a nice combination with young fullback Matt Dufty, who was as quick as ever through the midfield and on kick returns.

Hooker Cameron McInees even looked as if he'd improved on his career-best 2017. He ran freely from dummy-half in the first half to finish with 48 metres from his five up-tempo carries.

Jack de Belin, Jason Nightingale and Euan Aitken each also finished with tries for the Dragons in their 50th win at Kogarah as a merged club.

"These two (Hunt and Widdop) are going to work well together," coach Paul McGregor said.

"Ben is a genuine No.7 and Gareth is a genuine No.6.

"(Gareth)'s got bottomless talent and he wants to play instinctive footy. Whereas you wear the No.7 you've got to execute a game plan and the kicking game."

Comparatively, Brisbane struggled for cohesion as James Roberts scored their only two tries in the second half - either of side of Lodge's intercept pass.

The headline story of the past month, Lodge looked every bit the nervous player on return from his two-year exile, stemming from his infamous New York rampage.

Booed every time he touched the ball by the crowd of 14,457, he was whacked by a Frizell shoulder charge on his first run - earning the Broncos a penalty.

However, he was later penalised for a high shot on Dragons prop James Graham, and dropped a pass cold minutes later in the first half as he looked to take a hit-up.

"I wasn't disappointed with Matt," Bennett said.

"He had to start somewhere. We got him on the footy field tonight and got him playing football."

© AAP 2018