There was one moment at the end of the 2015 season when coach Paul McGregor knew that Gareth Widdop was the man to lead the club.
Roundly written off as finals pretenders prior to the match after limping into the play-offs in eighth spot the Dragons went within a whisker of upsetting the Bulldogs in week one of their first finals series in four seasons.
With five minutes to play and the scores locked at six apiece Widdop scampered back to clean up a loose ball only to collect the knees of twin behemoths Frank Pritchard and Sam Kasiano in a collision that landed Pritchard on report.
It might have been enough to end a lesser player’s night but – with an injured thigh already heavily strapped – Widdop dragged himself from the turf to land the long range go-ahead goal. He backed it up minutes later with a clutch after the siren goal to send the match into golden point, showing all the composure and poise that prompted McGregor to put the C in front of his name for the 2016 season.
History also shows it was Widdop who put an attempted 40-20 into touch on the full in the 84th minute opening the door for Bulldogs counterpart Josh Reynolds to slot the match-winning field goal to sink their season. Given his heroics in getting the Dragons to that point critics of the move were few but, as he prepares for his first game since that dramatic night at ANZ Stadium, Widdop admits it still stings.
‘‘It still burns, you hate losing football games,’’ Widdop said.
‘‘I went for a big play at the time which I back myself to do and will keep backing myself to do but unfortunately it went out. I obviously saw an opportunity there and those are the big plays you have to come up with as a half. If it was on again I’d do it again and hopefully next time I get it right.
‘‘You have to back yourself, you can’t go into your shell in those games. They’re make-or-break moments and if you’re second-guessing yourself it’s going to hurt you.’’
Second-guessing himself is not something the 26-year-old Englishman - who moved with his family from Halifax to Melbourne as a 16-year-old - has made a habit of during his career.
At just 24 he made the the decision to leave one of the NRL’s most enviable set-ups in Melbourne for a club deep in a rebuilding phase. Two years on he’s now the man charged with leading it out of the wilderness.
‘‘Coming from such a great club, with a great coach and having such great players around me … to pack up and move was quite a big move,” Widdop said.
“My wife’s from Melbourne as well and all her family’s down there so we had a lot of family support.
‘‘But I moved from England at 16 away from all my friends and family so I’ve been through it and I knew that at times it’s tough for the first few weeks, the first few months but you always come out the other end.
‘‘At that stage of my career it was time for me to move on and take a leadership role within a team and be a dominant half and it’s worked out well.”
The football Gods weren’t kind that night at ANZ Stadium but they’ve done him a solid to start the 2016 season, gifting him a round one return to Melbourne in his first game as Dragons captain.
‘‘It’s quite ironic first up down there,’’ he said.
“It probably hasn’t sunk in yet but to go back there as captain will be special.”