ST GEORGE Illawarra skipper Gareth Widdop’s fingers will likely stay crossed for the rest of the season, but he’s breathing a little easier after his side escaped the rep season unscathed.
The Dragons had five players involved in the now completed Origin series while Widdop, James Graham and Leeson Ah Mau were all involved in the controversial Denver Test experiment.
It was a looming month that gave Widdop and coach Paul McGregor no shortage of headaches earlier in the season despite a red-hot start.
Following game three on Wednesday night, they’ve come through the rep season 3-1, their only loss coming to the Storm in Melbourne last week.
Widdop said it’s a ledger he and McGregor would have taken in a heartbeat when they first sat down to contemplate the middle part of their campaign.
“Yeah definitely, we’d have certainly taken that considering where we have been in the past when it’s happened,” Widdop said.
“It’s never an easy six weeks with rep football, especially considering the number of players we had out. We pretty much had our entire starting pack [out].
“We did speak about it but it’s very hard to change too much. We learned a little bit from last year and it certainly helped having a good start to the season, we were playing with a lot of confidence and belief.
“We’ve added a bit of experience, especially in the forwards, with Jeremy Latimore, Leeson’s a bit older and obviously James Graham which has certainly helped that this year.
“We’ve got some sore tired bodies but we managed to jag some wins through that period. Thankfully the boys have got through OK, we’ve got no injuries, and we can get together, refocus our minds on the Dragons.
“The most important bit’s coming up now at the back end of the season.”
While the Blues contingent of Tyson Frizell, Jack de Belin, Paul Vaughan and Tariq Sims will return riding the high of a series win, it’ll be a different story for Widdop’s halves partner Ben Hunt.
Hunt played no small role in the Dragons start to the year but has endured a bumpy Origin campaign, scapegoated after losses in the first two games of the series and relegated to the bench for Wednesday’s dead rubber.
It’s prompted fears he’ll struggle to recapture top form over the remainder of the season, but they’re not fears Widdop holds.
“I’ve said it before, he’s a pretty laid back character so I don’t think there’s going to be too many things bothering him,” Widdop said.
“We as players and coaching staff know what he’s about and what he’s capable of. He’s done it throughout the year.
“There’s no reason he can’t come back and play with some confidence and belief and I’m sure he’ll do that. He’ll get away for a few days, refresh, and get back into it with the Dragons.”
The Dragons will head into Sunday’s clash with the Tigers at Kogarah in second spot, but with eight games to go, Widdop said his side will need to quickly recapture its early-season form.
“Momentum’s a big thing in rugby league and playing consistent football week in week out is really important,” Widdop said.
“Obviously at the start of the year we were doing that really, really well. Since then we’ve had a few performances that probably weren’t up to scratch.
“We managed to get through Origin with a few wins but, there’s seven weeks left, the real competition starts now.”