Matt Lodge's drama-filled return to the NRL was the best thing that could happen to him, according to Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett.
Lodge endured an up-and-down night in the Broncos' 34-12 loss to St George Illawarra, the prop's first game back since having sat out more than two years since his infamous New York rampage that landed him in Rikers Island jail.
The subject of intense scrutiny for the past month, Lodge topped the running metres for the Broncos but threw an intercept pass for a Ben Hunt dry, dropped a simple ball early and gave away a penalty for a high shot on James Graham.
Jeered and abused by the Jubilee Oval crowd every time he touched the ball, Lodge also bore the full brunt of Tyson Frizell's shoulder in his first hit up, which gave Brisbane their first penalty.
"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.
"He just needs to play football. He's played football tonight for the first time in three years and that's the best thing that happened to him."
Lodge's return overshadowed much of the lead-in to the season-opener, given he still owes $1.6 million in damages to his victims of the 2015 incident, for which he pled guilty to a misdemeanour reckless assault charge.
The 22-year-old broke his silence in a Fox League interview aired the day before the Dragons match, where he apologised to the victims and claimed he has since been reformed.
However, his intercept pass rightly handed the spotlight rightly back to the man who Thursday's season-opener should have always been centred around in Hunt.
The former Broncos half set up the opening try against his old club, before he admitted he recognised Brisbane's play and ran 50 metres to score the match-sealing try just as they threatened to mount a second-half comeback.
"I knew the play they were running," Hunt said.
"I actually went up to jam on Milf (Brisbane five-eighth Anthony Milford) and got there a bit early so had a crack at the ball.
"It was pretty exciting, it's always exciting when you score a try, but to get your first one for the new team felt pretty nice."
Australian Associated Press