Widdop to light Dragons’ attacking fire

LEAD THE WAY: Gareth Widdop. Picture: Getty Images

LEAD THE WAY: Gareth Widdop. Picture: Getty Images

CAPTAIN Gareth Widdop has declared he will take control of a Dragons attacking overhaul, as coach Paul McGregor considers the halfback options in the pre-season.

I’ll certainly be taking charge more - Gareth Widdop

The St George Illawarra squad kicked off 2017 with a ball work session on Monday, after a torturous three-day camp last week.

McGregor is confronted with finding a new No.7 this season, after Benji Marshall left the club for Brisbane and Illawarra Cutters premiership player Drew Hutchison suffered a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury before Christmas.

Widdop expects Josh McCrone, Shaun Nona and Jai Field all to have time to audition during training and in the trial games before a decision is made on who plays in the NRL opener against Penrith on March 4.

“We’ll be changing things up a little bit, with Benji leaving,” he said. 

“I’ll certainly be taking charge more. Over the next few weeks we’ll be working on making sure we get it right before the season starts.

“It’s only the first day back on the paddock, but we’ll go through the way we want to play and our structures over the next few weeks and come up with a plan.”

The Dragons only managed 341 points last year, an average of 14.2 per game, in limping to 11th.

And without a high-profile partner for Widdop, they’ve already been written off for next year, as rank $81 outsiders in premiership betting markets.

However, Widdop expects Marshall and Hutchison’s replacement to make an immediate impact this year.

“I’m a good mate of Drew’s, it’s very disappointing, the way he’s going to be out for most of the season now,” he said.

“But it opens an opportunity and obviously we’ve got Josh McCrone, who played 150 first grade games and Jai Field and Shaun Nona. 

“So we’ve got plenty of players for that position.”

Field and Nona could be handed a golden opportunity at the NRL Auckland Nines next month, with Widdop likely to miss the pre-season tournament with his wife due to give birth to their third child.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to go away, so we’re just sort of playing it by ear,” he said. 

Experienced Dragons winger Jason Nightingale, who was part of the New Zealand Four Nations squad, believes the answer to their attacking woes is to simplify their attacking structures. 

The last remaining member of the 2010 premiership team, Nightingale said pre-season soul searching has helped them find solutions.

“We’re trying to keep it simple, that’s the main thing,” he said. “Because that’s where we over-complicated things. At times looked like we looked like we haven’t known what we’re doing, but it’s been a bit more that we’ve been making it more complicated than we needed to make it.”

The Dragons take on Parramatta, Manly and the Warriors in their Auckland Nine group, starting Feburary 4, before tackling the Tigers at WIN Stadium and the Charity Shield game against Souths on February 19.

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