Paul McGregor has defended under-fire halfback Ben Hunt after the playmaker had another forgettable game in his team's morale-boosting 20-10 win over Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday – one the Dragons boss described as the best of his coaching career.
Hunt dropped the second half kick-off in a manner reminiscent of the 2015 grand final – leading immediately to the Tigers' only try of the game – and was sin-binned for being offside at an unfortunate time, when his team had just been given the warning for repeated infringements.
The rest of his game was punctuated by a few poor options and McGregor said the halfback was disappointed in his own game after full time.
"Ben's a part of our 17 and he will always be a part of our 17 while I'm coach, he's our No.7," McGregor said.
"Benny's in next door [in the sheds] and he's not happy with his performance but that's ok because he's got next week.
"I said through the week, if criticism was to come to the team it should come through the coach so leave my players alone.
"I understand the criticism because it goes with my role. The players get 80 minutes every week to go and protect that character. Benny will be out next week protecting it."
Match Highlights: Wests Tigers v Dragons – Round 23, 2018
Hunt's indifferent performance aside, McGregor was delighted with the crucial win, which returns the team to the top four.
"To get a nice result that we did today and under the circumstances I'd say it's nearly the best win I've had as a coach since I've been at the club," McGregor said.
"Considering the start of the game, 6-0 penalty count, one in the bin, opposition playing for their season. The scrutiny that players and staff have been under. To come out and have the resolve today just shows what we've built our year on since round one."
The ability to scramble and defend under pressure in the first half and the ability to take chances when they eventually arose in the second proved the difference, according to McGregor.
"It was about knowing what worked for us and getting back to that," he said.
McGregor: Hunt will always be in the 17
"When we needed to find [effort] we found more and more. It typifies how we played that first 20 minutes, defending our try line consistently, forcing errors.
"We've still got a bit of discipline to pick up. All year our vision has been team first but our purpose has been top four. We've been out of it for one week and everyone was coming at us. It's now around being disciplined staying there for the rest of the year. We've got to back up what we did today next week against Canterbury."