Jamie Soward’s field goal from 25 metres out with 25 seconds of the first period of the extra-time remaining sealed the win for the Dragons, who led for most of the game in front of a club-record attendance of 29,189.
A raucous home crowd greeted the sides as they took to the field, with familiarity very much the order of the day.
There were no fewer than six former Dragons lining up for the hosts, with Bennett’s former No.2 Steve Price taking control of his first NRL game as a head coach of the Dragons.
The Knights also welcomed home two members of their premiership-winning side from 2001 in the shape of former skipper Danny Buderus, who rejoined the club from English side Leeds, and Timana Tahu, who returned following a spell with Penrith.
There was also a debut for Darius Boyd, who rejoined Bennett for a third time after a three-year stint with the Dragons.
The Dragons got off to the worst possible start when skipper Ben Hornby’s opening kick-off went out on the full to gift the hosts possession.
Buderus then combined well with Boyd, who showed his quality with some quick footwork that led to Jack De Belin being penalised for failing to release in the tackle.
Despite being just 15 metres from the posts, Knights skipper Kurt Gidley opted to take the two points to open the scoring to the delight of the near-capacity crowd.
The Dragons, sans Bennett and Boyd, have been written off as also-rans this season but their response was good with Matt Cooper and Hornby punching holes in the Knights’ defence with ease.
And it was no surprise that the 2010 premiers, who have won at the Hunter Stadium on their last five visits, opened their account for the season in the ninth minute in fine style as Brett Morris hauled in a Cooper pass to hold off Jarrod Mullen and Akuila Uate to score, with Jamie Soward adding the extras.
The Dragons continued to press as the Knights laboured in defence, but they were only able to add two extra points from the boot of Soward to show for their dominance.
That let-off appeared to galvanise the hosts who finished the half strongly with an individual effort for a try from Mullen.
The former NSW halfback took advantage of a lapse in concentration from Beau Scott to sprint out of dummy-half and through a flat-footed Dragons defence before diving over the line.
However, Gidley’s sideline conversion fell well short to preserve the Dragons’ lead.
The second half saw Price’s side race out of the traps, with Nathan Fien knocking on over the tryline after diving onto a Cooper grubber-kick.
The Dragons maintained the spell of pressure and increased their lead eight minutes after the restart when Cooper muscled his way past the Knights defence after Soward had linked up with Ben Creagh.
The Knights hit back well with Uate going close, and their persistence was rewarded when Tahu’s superb pass was carried over the line by James McManus.
Gidley’s kick closed the gap to two points and he levelled the score 11 minutes from time with a penalty from 30 metres.