Gareth Widdop experienced a new world when moving from Melbourne to Sydney. Picture: Dan Himbrechts
Gareth Widdop experienced a new world when moving from Melbourne to Sydney. Picture: Dan Himbrechts

Why Widdop left shadows for Red V furnace

Gareth Widdop left Melbourne to jump out of the shadow of some of his larger than life teammates.

What Widdop wasn't expecting though was entering the furnace which is St George Illawarra. Widdop escaped Melbourne through virtual anonymity.

Aside from being in an AFL-mad state, he walked behind the likes of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater.

But at St George Illawarra he quickly rose to captain one of the game's most famous and scrutinised clubs.

It was a role in which he took a while to get accustomed.

 

Stream the 2019 NRL Telstra Premiership on KAYO SPORTS. Every game of every round Live & On-Demand on your TV, computer, mobile or tablet. Get your 14 day free trial >

 

Gareth Widdop experienced a new world when moving from Melbourne to Sydney. Picture: Dan Himbrechts
Gareth Widdop experienced a new world when moving from Melbourne to Sydney. Picture: Dan Himbrechts

"In Melbourne you're behind the AFL and no one really cares," Widdop said. "You come to Sydney and every single paper and TV shows are filled with rugby league.

"We have passionate Dragons fans. They expect the best and they've had some rough years.

"When I took over captaincy we didn't have the best year. It was a difficult year and I learnt a lot.

"When you are captain you think you have to worry about everyone else and what they are doing.

"When I look back. you have to worry about yourself first and make sure you're doing everything right and everyone will follow."

 

 

Widdop arrived as a marquee signing in 2014 having been part of a successful Melbourne side, including their 2012 premiership win.

Widdop made an automatic impact, helping the Dragons to win their opening three games of that season. But success has been limited.

"I would've liked to have had more success in the Red V," Widdop said. "But it's helped me as a person and a player."

Retired teammate Jason Nightingale said Widdop's leadership grew slowly before he eventually took over the captaincy from Ben Creagh in 2016.

 

Widdop left Melbourne to lead the Dragons later on.
Widdop left Melbourne to lead the Dragons later on.

 

"He was very quiet and reserved," Nightingale said. "He was made captain because he was our best player but slowly over time he invested himself in becoming a leader.

"He got more into it and he became a better talker and understood you can't pretend to be someone you're not.

"He allowed his personality traits and characteristics to form the way he led rather than be dictated by someone else. He based his leadership on keeping things organised and rational.

"He created his own identity and that's what has made him a successful captain for so long.

He had kids young so he always had plenty of things going on at home but he always found time for a coffee or beer with the boys. He leaves an important legacy where a relationship will extend past the fact you played footy together."

 

Widdop returns to the UK Super League next season. Picture: Dan Himbrechts
Widdop returns to the UK Super League next season. Picture: Dan Himbrechts

 

Widdop won't play finals football in his final year at the Dragons before joining Warrington next year. He does take some solace he will finish the year on the field.

His season - and potentially his career - looked over when he needed a second shoulder reconstruction in six months after an innocuous incident in round three this year.

"With the season the way it was and myself moving on the easy option would've been to put my cue in the rack, sit on the sidelines and watch the boys run around," Widdop said.

"I'm the leader of this club, the captain. There is no way I wanted to go out through injury and take the easy option. I wanted to go back out on the field and help us as much as I could. I wanted to go out and play football.

"Next year is next year. That's the mentality I had. For me it was all about the Dragon sand trying to help them. I managed to do everything possible."

Widdop said "you never say no" to making an NRL return.