Ben Hunt has delivered Queensland selectors a timely reminder of his playmaking prowess by carving up Canterbury in a 40-4 Dragons demolition at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium in Kogarah.
The incumbent Test and Maroons utility has hardly rated a mention as far as Queensland's Origin stocks go but he was the talk of the town on Sunday, finishing with three try assists – his first of 2019 - and two four-pointers of his own as St George Illawarra registered their third win on the trot.
With Cameron Munster a certainty at five-eighth and Daly Cherry-Evans and Michael Morgan captaincy contenders in lieu of Greg Inglis' uncertain future, Hunt is odds on to feature somewhere in Kevin Walters' Origin I line-up – be it at hooker or from the bench.
A welcome return to form had 29-year-old Hunt in everything from the outset.
Match: Dragons v Bulldogs
Round 5 -
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
It was his pin point face ball that piloted Euan Aitken past Kerrod Holland after 14 minutes.
And it was Hunt again playing a leading hand, even if it was in some distress, when the Dragons lined up for a second.
Battling an arm injury in back play, the Queensland half conceded 15 kilos to Rhys Martin but still pinched a one-on-one strip and the Bulldog's lunch money, with Tim Lafai crossing from the ensuing break.
Another Hunt ball, this time a harbour bridge cut-out effort, found Mikaele Ravalawa with plenty of work to do.
Lafai extends Dragons' lead
But the work was duly done with the Fijian stepping and burrowing past Bulldogs defenders for an 18-0 half-time lead.
"Benny is really enjoying his footy," Dragons coach Paul McGregor said after a win he described as a "clinic".
"When someone with that much talent is enjoying his footy, it’s exciting to watch. He’s had a couple of good games this year but that was his best."
A Hunt bomb in the 54th minute had Matt Dufty across the stripe as well, but the play was called back for illegal contact on Canterbury's Jayden Okunbor in the air.
The Dragons were in soon enough though, quick hands by Dufty and Lafai putting Jordan Pereira over out wide.
Get Caught Up: Round 5
Hunt capped his afternoon out with a cheeky 63rd minute try of his own, toeing ahead a loose Kerrod Holland pass for a 28-0 advantage.
The No.7 was on hand yet again when Okunbor made his third mistake of the day, spilling a bomb straight down to Hunt who duly sent Zac Lomax over for his first NRL try.
Corey Norman then repaid the favour in the final minute, dummying and jinking through worn out defenders to find Hunt under the posts yet again.
The pair continue to find their feet as a combination after an unsteady first fortnight, when McGregor unsuccessfully juggled skipper Gareth Widdop and livewire Matt Dufty in his spine as well.
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Widdop's dislocated shoulder late against Brisbane two weeks ago put paid to those experiments.
McGregor understands the mountain of opinion that came with them, but sees impact across the board rather than in just a settled playmaking contingent.
"It was a big discussion point in the first three weeks," McGregor said.
"I thought we got it right in round three [when Widdop was injured]. I didn’t think there was too much wrong with it in the first two weeks, but it was certainly a talking point. A lot went back on the spine, but I don’t think it was the spine’s fault.
"It was a team thing. When you lose a quality player like Gareth, you never replace them. Certainly the way [Hunt and Norman] played today it looks like they’re forming a nice combination."
While Hunt called the shots Paul Vaughan landed them up front before an impressive 43-minute cameo was iced by a minor ankle strain.
Dragons finish match with special team try
The NSW Origin prop finished with 148 running metres from 14 runs with 22 tackles to boot, while James Graham tallied 133 hard fought metres against his former Canterbury teammates.
Those old Bulldogs mates found little joy just nine months after a 38-0 triumph on the same Kogarah turf. It also put the Dragons into the top-eight leapfrogging their neighbourhood rivals, Cronulla.
After strong showings against Wests Tigers and Melbourne of late, Canterbury had to wait over 70 minutes for their first line break of the game before Reimis Smith nabbed a late consolation try.