14th March 2018, 11:39 | steve_mascord

Home & Away: Gareth Widdop

Home & Away: Gareth Widdop

Steve Mascord gets the inside line from the Dragons man ahead of tomorrow's NRL game against Cronulla...

TOMORROW morning is probably the closest thing Australian rugby league has to the Wigan-Saints derby – Cronulla v St George Illawarra at Southern Cross Stadium.

On match eve, Dragons captain and England stand-off Gareth Widdop spoke to rugby-league.com

Rugby-league.com: You started the season with a bang against Brisbane last week – even after one game Dragons fans are getting excited.

Gareth Widdop: “Yeah, we’ve certainly got some – obviously – passionate fans. No doubt we gave them a good start. We’ve got a lot of hard work to do, a full season ahead, but we’ve taken a lot of confidence out of the first match and it’s just important we’re consistent.”

RLC: Can you tell us a little bit about the pre-season? You played Hull. Do you like the idea of Super League clubs playing NRL teams at that time of the year?

GW: “Definitely, especially for myself. I’ve got a lot of friends who play for both sides (Hull and Wigan) so it was really enjoyable. They’re a great side, are Hull, and they nearly got us there. Our pre-season’s been as tough as ever but we got through it was no injuries. I’d love to play the Super League teams again. I guess it’s pretty hard for those guys, they have to fly back and back up again. You’d probably look at rescheduling to give those guys more time off but other than that, I really enjoyed playing the Super League teams.”

RLC: Everyone here is interested in how James Graham is fitting in at the club. You were good friends before; what’s it like seeing him every day?

GW: “Look, it’s always great when you get good mates coming to the club. For us, it’s great having such an experienced player who’s played hundreds and hundreds of games at the highest level. Everyone knows his character and the way he plays the game. He gives us a bit of leadership in the pack, which we’ve probably missed over the years. He’s certainly come in and added a bit around the place, it’s certainly helping.”

RLC: Have you noticed any subtle changes in his game at the Dragons compared to previously?

GW: “Coming from the Dogs to us, we probably play a little bit different. I think for Jammer, it’s all the one-percenters, the little things that people don’t see from the outside, what he does. That’s what everyone’s noticed in the team and in the club and if we can get everyone doing those little one percenters week in and week out, we’re going to give us every chance. We all know the type of player he is. He’s a bit competitor. That’s all you can ask for. He’s always competing. A lot of people follow what he does which is great.”

RLC: Denver; when you first heard about the Test there on June 23, were you concerned the NRL clubs might stand in the way of it happening?

GW: “I suppose there’s been a bit of talk about the Denver match and when it is, in the middle of the season. But I suppose any time you get to represent your country, it’s a huge honour. For me it’s the pinnacle of the sport, playing international rugby league and taking it over to America where we talk about trying to grow the game. We’ve got a great opportunity. Personally, for myself, any time I get the chance to play I love every minute of it. I suppose, like I said, a lot of people have talked about the scheduling of it, having to fly over and fly back. I understand the player welfare part of things. I can see why it’s not the best but as a player if you get to represent your country it’s great.”

RLC: How’s the turnaround for you? You have a game the following Thursday, right?

GW: “I think we do, yeah. To be honest I haven’t looked into it too much but I know we’ve got a short turnaround. I suppose you’ve got to get selected first and then it’s something to look at. But it’s a long way away now. We’ll deal with that when we come it it.”

RLC: Wayne Bennett’s been reappointed. Was that any surprise to you?

GW: “No. I think the boys have really enjoyed having him as the head coach for the last two years. I think the improvement we’ve made in such a short period of time as players … he always gives us things he wants us to work on when we go away at club level. It’s going to make England a better team. You can see it from the World Cup. We couldn’t quite get the job done but it was so close, it could have gone either way. I think it just shows how far we’ve come. I’m happy to have him as our coach and so are all the other boys. He knows the game and he gets the best out of players. Yeah, it’s great he’s signed on for another two years.”

RLC: As you said, the World Cup final was a close thing. Is it frustrating you don’t get another shot at the Aussies for so long? It could be as Great Britain, not England.

GW: “Yeah, I haven’t really thought about it like that. I suppose when you think about it, it’s a long time between playing the Aussies. With Great Britain, I’d like to see a Lions Tour again. Growing up as a kid over there, there was nothing better than watching Great Britain play against Australia and against the Kiwis. I think it would be great to have a Great Britain Lions Tour again and if I got the opportunity I’d like to represent the Lions. I’m not sure where we’re at with that but it would be good.”

RLC: Take us inside your new halves partnership with Ben Hunt. Does it become the focus of the pre-season or do you just let it happen organically?

GW: “Yeah, no doubt when you play in the halves you need to have a good combination there. We didn’t have much time. We got back from the World Cup in January and got back into trials in February. We’ve done as much as we can at training to work together and look, we’ve got a bit of a style we like to play the last year or two now so we haven’t changed too many things. Ben’s a pretty intelligent player so he’s picked it up quite easily. He didn’t take too long to understand what we’re about. The more we’ve played together, the better we can become.”