Widdop arrives earlier than expected to Dragons

RUGBY LEAGUE

Gareth Widdop knew he had little hope of playing in the NRL finals because of a "horrific" hip injury, and he certainly wasn't expected at Dragons pre-season training before Christmas after his World Cup exertions.

But when the majority of Red V expectation is squarely being laid at the feet of their prized recruit, Widdop thought it best to make another timely appearance ahead of schedule.

As the Dragons' other high-profile World Cup tourists, Brett Morris and Jason Nightingale, sun themselves after an exhausting year, Widdop caught some rays of a different kind yesterday.

He watched as the majority of the Dragons squad sweltered through a gruelling session in Wollongong. And then he took time to familiarise himself with an attack he will be engineering in 2014.

"I thought it was important to come down and meet the boys and get to know a few of them before Christmas," Widdop told the Illawarra Mercury after engaging in some very light ball work.

"Having been away with the World Cup obviously I was going to miss pre-season, but I thought it would help me coming back after Christmas knowing everyone and knowing all the plays."

Knowing all the plays was a whole lot easier when you're singing off the same hymn sheet as Melbourne's Big Three.

No Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk or Billy Slater as accomplices any more? That sits just fine for the man the Dragons will fork out a reported $2 million for over the next four years.

"Not at all," Widdop fires back when asked about any concerns around graduating from the Storm orchestra to conductor at the Dragons. "I'll probably get my hands on the ball a little more than I used to, and that's what I'm really looking forward to.

"Like I said, I've learnt a lot from them, but hopefully it's going to be a bit better for me. I really enjoyed my time at Melbourne and had quite a lot of success there.

"I liked the idea of coming up here and taking more of a leadership role within the team.

"The Dragons are a great club and they've got a lot of history . . . and they're obviously building for the future. We've got a good roster this year and bought really well."

The thought of Widdop, 24, even partaking in Dragons training before Christmas might have been a forlorn one after his hip injury mid-way through last year.

He only needs a few short musings to describe the pain, calling it "horrific" and "one of the worst feelings ever".

But in the same breath he assured St George Illawarra fans they need not fret about the health of their new marquee man, even after pushing the boundaries to bid the Storm farewell with a finals appearance and featuring for England in the World Cup.

"I had to give myself some sort of goal with the World Cup," he said. "If you don't have goals it's quite hard to get yourself up."

And he's not shy about acknowledging premiership success may define his tenure at the Dragons.

"You play the game to win," he said. "If everyone buys into what we're doing at the club, then there's no reason why we can't do that.

"Obviously that's a long way away yet and we're not thinking about that at all [yet]. But you want to win and you want to play because you want to win premierships. At the end of the day that's the main goal at the end of the season."

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