New Dragon Gareth Widdop living a dream

RUGBY LEAGUE

It took a lengthy detour through Melbourne for new Dragons recruit Gareth Widdop to realise his lifelong dream - to play a team based in rugby league heartland.

But if the new St George Illawarra playmaker hadn’t detoured via Melbourne he does not know whether the chance would come.

After his parents, Gary and Joanne, relocated the family to Australia in 2006, the then 16-year-old was excited by the opportunity of living in a place where league dominated the media and general conversation so he was taken aback to discover AFL rules in Melbourne after immigration officials advised the Widdops they needed to move to Victoria.

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However, he now concedes the shift may have been the best thing for his career as he wasn’t competing with a large pool of talent in Melbourne when the NRL introduced the under 20s National Youth Competition.

‘‘I always had intentions of playing league ... I had played it since I was four or five and I knew, obviously, that Australia was massive for rugby league, so it was a bit of a shock to get to Melbourne and find out that there was pretty much no rugby league at all,’’ he said.

‘‘There was like five rugby league teams, which wasn’t a strong competition at all, so at first it was quite hard ... all I wanted to do was play rugby league.

‘‘We were supposed to move to Noosa but my mum was a teacher at the time that Melbourne needed teachers, so not long before we were supposed to move out here we got a phone call saying you have to move to Melbourne for two years.

'It is a proud club and I came up here for the opportunity to be a part of a team that is building over the next few years.'

‘‘We had no choice but luckily when I got here the U20s competition was starting up and being down in Melbourne there weren’t too many kids coming through.’’

Named in the NYC team of the year in 2009, Widdop has always appeared destined to be a star, but it has taken his move to StGeorge Illawarra this season to escape the shadow of the Storm’s big three, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk.

Widdop, 25, has been outstanding in the Dragons’ wins over Wests Tigers and the Warriors, and the way he has transformed a team widely tipped as wooden-spoon favourites has many now suggesting he could be one of the best English halves to have played for an Australian club.

‘‘I could have stayed in Melbourne, but the Dragons are going through a stage where they have got a very young roster; it is a great club, it has got a lot of history, it is a proud club and I came up here for the opportunity to be a part of a team that is building over the next few years,’’ Widdop said.

While he has played 11 Tests for England and been in grand finals and World Club Challenge deciders, Widdop has never experienced a true local derby such as Saturday night’s clash between the Dragons and Cronulla.

‘‘Down in Melbourne we always have tough battles with Manly, but it is not a local derby like the Sharks and Dragons, so I am really looking forward to it,’’ he said.

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