THEY’VE searched almost two decades for a genuine number seven, but might have stumbled across a man who can wear the number one for the next 10 years as the start of the Ben Hunt era at the Dragons was hijacked by featherweight fullback Matt Dufty.
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St George Illawarra's multi-million dollar halfback Hunt was the man most came to see, but few were talking about him in the same breath as Dufty, who stole the show to ease coach Paul McGregor's headache finding Josh Dugan's successor.
Hunt and the Red V's other major off-season recruit James Graham, who made a blink-and-you-miss-it 25-minute cameo, stepped out in their new colours for the first time as a patchy St George Illawarra, who also included Gerringong’s Tariq Sims and Reuben Garrick, stumbled to a 24-18 win over Super League visitors Hull at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
A patched together Hull, inspired by livewire former Sharks and Titans five-eighth Albert Kelly, looked capable of causing a pre-season upset until Kurt Mann's match-winning effort four minutes from the end.
Hunt and captain Gareth Widdop showed signs of promise for impatient Dragons fans, combining on the same side of the field for the first of two Nene McDonald tries in five second-half minutes.
However, Hunt was solid rather than spectacular.
McGregor thought enough to keep the Australian and Queensland star on the field for 72 minutes as Dufty, who ran for more than 200 metres, and Widdop played close to 70 minutes for a Dragons team missing only Tyson Frizell and Jack de Belin.
McGregor will demand a better performance against the Rabbitohs in the Charity Shield showdown in Mudgee next week after at times looking off the pace against a wounded Hull after their loss to Wigan.
Graham returned from the sheds at half-time out of his playing strip and even stepped up for an in-game interview just minutes later after being kept in cotton wool following his first quarter stint.
But for all the hype over the Dragons' marquee signings, seven-game NRL newcomer Dufty was the one most wanted to praise.
Having packed on some muscle over summer, the 22-year-old showed he had lost little of his speed and is set to edge out Jai Field for the No.1 jersey.
McGregor had kept an open mind about finding a successor to the Sharks-bound Dugan, but needed only 40 minutes to lock in his custodian for the Broncos season opener.
Hunt and Graham would do well to forget their first few contributions in the Red V, the former spearing one of his first kicks dead and the latter fumbling a regulation pass inside the opening six minutes.
An energetic Hull posed a threat every time they pushed into St George Illawarra territory, but none more than Kelly, who bagged a first half double.
The troubled former Sharks and Titans playmaker pounced on an infield kick from Jake Connor to open the scoring and handed the Super League side a deserved half-time lead when he danced over from close range five minutes before the break.
In between Tim Lafai opened the Dragons' account after back-to-back offloads from Paul Vaughan and Tariq Sims while Jason Nightingale jinked his way over after a neat interchange on the right.
McDonald's quick fire brace lifted the Dragons to a second-half lead, which was quickly chalked off with Liam Watts' solo effort before Mann's decisive contribution.
Full-time: St George Illawarra Dragons 24 (Nene McDonald 2, Tim Lafai, Jason Nightingale, Kurt Mann tries; Gareth Widdop, Jai Field goal) defeated Hull 18 (Albert Kelly 2, Liam Watts tries; Marc Sneyd 3 goals) at ANZ Stadium.
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