In one of his best performances for the Red V, captain Ben Hunt proved the difference for the Dragons as they surged past the Cowboys 25-18 in a high-octane clash in Townsville.
While the rest of the round was largely played in torrential rain, Townsville served up a dry track that produced a lightning encounter as both sides traded blows throughout the 80 minutes.
There were simple errors from both sides but that seemed only to add to an end-to-end encounter where momentum shifted time and again. Neither side recorded a win in week one and the desperation to get off the mark in 2021 was clear.
Corey Norman almost produced the first two-point field goal in the game’s history on the stroke of half-time but he wandered just inside the 40m line as it sailed over the crossbar. That gave them an important buffer but it was man of the match Hunt who stepped up to the plate when it mattered.
Hunt has been on the end of rolling criticism since his big-money move from the Broncos and has admitted he struggles with the pressure of the spotlight. But he had no such trouble on Saturday night, playing an assured hand and scoring a key try as the Dragons clung on to return from the tropics with a vital victory.
Hunt said he had been challenged to take control of matches and the captaincy was sitting well with him.
“Hook [Dragons coach Anthony Griffin] really challenged me and Corey [Norman] to take the game on tonight. It’s just made me really sit back and think about other players in the team rather than looking after myself every week. I feel like I did that a bit already but I really wanted to take it to another level,” Hunt said.
The Dragons led 13-6 at the break as Mikaele Ravalawa and Josh Kerr returned fire after Coen Hess scored for the Cowboys after just a few minutes of play.