Gareth Widdop the 'go to guy' for St George Illawarra

Gareth Widdop showing off his attacking flair for St George Illawarra. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Gareth Widdop showing off his attacking flair for St George Illawarra. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

RUGBY LEAGUE

As he nears the end of his first season away from the anonymity of Melbourne, Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop feels he's finally broken free of the shadow cast by Storm superstars Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater.

After four years quietly plying his trade in Melbourne, Widdop shifted to the Dragons in search of limelight this year. He has rewarded the club with outstanding performances, forcing his way into Dally M Medal contention and silencing doubters who questioned whether he could succeed without the guidance of the Storm's "big three" and master coach Craig Bellamy.

Widdop said the chance to prove he was more than just a support act was a huge motivator.

"It was a big move and there were a few people questioning how I'd go away from Melbourne but that's what I wanted, that's why I came here," Widdop said.

"I knew it wasn't going to come easy but I never would've come here if I didn't have the confidence and didn't back myself to do it.

"I'd been down there [Melbourne] and learned a lot and it's a great football club but at this stage of my career I wanted to move on and take on a lot more leadership and become that dominant ball player within the team. I've come here and I think I've done that."

It's tossed up more hurdles than he expected, including the mid-year sacking of the coach who brought him to Wollongong, Steve Price. But the 25-year-old said his first season in Dragons colours provided all the challenges he was looking for in leaving Melbourne.

"Having a change of coach after 10 weeks is something I'd never experienced and something that was certainly challenging but personally I've really enjoyed this year," he said.

"As a team it's disappointing that we're not in the finals but I think over the past 12 weeks we've definitely grown as a group and that's hopefully going to build into the future."

The season also tossed up the opportunity to partner Benji Marshall in the halves after the Dragons brought the former Kiwi Test captain back from a brief stint in rugby union.

After some early teething problems the pair formed one of the competition's most dynamic halves pairings and Widdop said the opportunity to learn from the former golden boot winner had proven a bonus.

"It's very exciting playing alongside someone of Benji's calibre. He's a great of the game," Widdop said.

"He's played in the biggest games and he's a very experienced player. I still think of myself as a young bloke and I still definitely want to learn and become a better player and there's definitely some things I've learned from Benji.

"Hopefully with a full pre-season under our belts next year we'll become a better combination and hopefully lead this team around."

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