Dan Walsh, Staff Writer, NRL.com
Gareth Widdop has played in front of more than 80,000 people in an NRL grand final, represented his country and turned out in a World Club Challenge decider but says his first true local derby experience is one he won’t forget in a hurry.
Having started his career in Melbourne, where the closest rival is 676 kilometres up the Hume highway in the nation’s capital, Widdop had his first taste of the intense rivalry between neighbouring clubs St George Illawarra and Cronulla as the Dragons triumphed 14-12 in a nail-biting affair.
And the Dragons prize recruit says the reception the fans gave was unlike anything the English international had experienced in 72 prior NRL matches and 11 Tests.
"The crowd are right on top of you here and it’s something pretty unique when the two local teams start going at each other," Widdop said after his side’s third straight win to start the season.
"They definitely [gave them a lift] when the Sharks gained a bit of momentum there, they were coming home strong but we defended OK and managed to hold them out."
Anyone who hails from Sydney’s southern suburbs will tell you a showdown between the two clubs is more than just another game and Widdop said Saturday’s match, which captain Ben Creagh dubbed "a typical dogfight", was no exception.
"Local derbies are always that next step up and it was spoken about during the week," he said.
"It is that extra bit special, a bit tougher, a bit quicker and we were just happy to get the win."
The Dragons new five-eighth was again amongst his side’s best, getting through 23 tackles in defence and laying on yet another try to take his season tally to five try assists in three matches.
Widdop will be counted on to again lead from the front as the Dragons head into another traditional grudge match, facing off against the Broncos in their first WIN Stadium home game for 2014 this Friday.
The 25-year-old said he was relishing the extra responsibility he has taken on at the Dragons, as well as the added pressure that comes with representing one of the NRL’s most famous clubs.
"One of the main reasons I moved here was to get my hands on the footy a lot more and become a leader within a team and at the moment I’m really enjoying my football," he said.
"It is a special club. There’s a lot of history here and it’s a proud club.
"When I come here and wear that Red V, it’s with a lot of passion and hopefully the fans see that and I can keep performing."