What's my team? Gareth Widdop's boy faces dilemma

Gareth Widdop hopes there will a hearty reception. Knows there will probably a few boos too. But as son Brayden is testament to, old habits die hard.

Gareth Widdop. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Gareth Widdop. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

‘‘I’m not sure who my young fella is going to support because he keeps going on ‘I want to play for the Storm’,’’ joked Widdop, days out from his highly-anticipated return to Melbourne. ‘‘We might have to zip his mouth together.’’

It’s perhaps the only tuition Widdop junior will need as his father, about to embark on a return to the only rugby league club he ever knew, tells how Brayden has been kicking a Dragons footy around ‘‘flat stick’’ all week.

The fact Brayden’s first instinct is to wear the purple of the Storm says a lot about Widdop and his upbringing since moving to Australia as a 15-year-old.

His family still live in Melbourne, wife Carley’s family is still in the southern capital and the Storm was like an extended family.

He was only in Wollongong for a few days after the World Cup before getting married. And you guessed it, that was in Melbourne too.

So it made the task walking into the office of coach Craig Bellamy, who helped nurture Widdop through Victoria’s fledgling rugby league nursery, a daunting one when the lure of being the main man in Wollongong was too much.

After all, Widdop was the Storm’s poster boy for what could be achieved in the schooling of young rugby league players in AFL central.

‘‘It was very hard to build up the courage to tell him what I was going to do,’’ Widdop told the Mercury. ‘‘How do I say it to him? It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

‘‘But once I told him he respects a person’s decision and understands. He made it very easy for me. As soon as I told him he was fine ... everyone was sweet and we just moved on.’’

And the Storm even found time for Widdop to make a remarkable return from a sickening hip injury and feature in their lacklustre finals campaign. Moving on for Widdop’s ex-teammates hasn’t been so easy this year, though.

Much like the Dragons, they soared through the opening three rounds unbeaten. And then came the lingering mental baggage associated with Alex McKinnon’s devastating spinal injury, which saw Jordan McLean banned for seven weeks.

Bellamy’s side has shipped points at some rate since, dropping their past two matches.

‘‘They’re great friends of mine and no doubt what’s happened has affected a lot of people,’’ Widdop said. ‘‘I’m sure Jordan will have immense support behind him down there, but it would have affected them over the past couple of weeks.’’

So just how much knowledge will Widdop impart on his Dragons teammates after having a golden ticket to factory which churns out the Storm’s superstars?

After all, the Dragons need every bit of help they can get. They haven’t won in Melbourne since Widdop was a 10-year-old - the joint venture’s first year in 1999.

And they were lapped in their only visit south last year, a match in which Widdop described ‘‘as one of the hardest he played’’ in near 40 degree temperatures.

‘‘Spending five or six years down there I know quite a bit about their games,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s very hard to try to stop them, but everyone has got their weaknesses and strengths.

‘‘There are certain things we will sit down and have a look at where we can exploit their defence.’’

And if he manages to, it might be enough to convince the young fella to aspire to wearing the Red V after all.


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