Widdop hoping for fairytale debut

When Gareth Widdop emigrated to Australia, he was a Halifax scholarship player with ambitions to one day play in Engage Super League for Bradford Bulls.<br> <br> Four years later, he is back in England and poised to make his first-grade debut for Australian champions Melbourne Storm in the Gillette World Club Challenge.<br> <br> And the fact Sunday’s big match is against Bradford’s arch rivals Leeds Rhinos makes the fairytale all the more remarkable. <br> <br> The 20-year-old full-back was delighted to make Storm’s initial 23-man squad and inched closer to a place on the bench at Elland Road with an impressive performance in Sunday’s warm-up game against Harlequins. <br> <br> “Hopefully I’ll get a spot,” he said. “If not, it’s a big learning curve for me. I’m still 20 and I’ve a lot more years over there. <br> <br> “To win the World Club Challenge would be unreal, especially on my debut in first grade. It’s something you dream of as a kid. It would be the best thing I’ve ever done I reckon.” <br> <br> The Yorkshire accent has mellowed in the four years he has spent in the Victorian capital, which - unlike the Widdop family - has little rugby league tradition. <br> <br> Father Gary played with Keighley and famously had an altercation with former Great Britain and Halifax coach Malcolm Reilly while mother Joanne has also coached and still plays tag rugby in Perth, where they now live. <br> <br> “Gareth was always going to play rugby league,” said Gary, who helped coach the Melbourne academy team before his relocation to Western Australia. <br> <br> The Gillette World Club Challenge has given the whole family the opportunity to return for a reunion with relatives in Yorkshire but Gareth has no doubt where he now considers home. <br> <br> “My parents wanted a better lifestyle for me and my sister and it was a business opportunity for my dad,” he explained. <br> <br> “I had the intentions of playing but didn’t know where. I began with the academy and then the Under-20s started and I got a contract with them. <br> <br> “It’s definitely been the best move I’ve ever made. I always wanted to play at this level. It’s been a long journey, a bit of a fairytale.” <br> <br> Blocking Widdop’s path into the full-back role at Melbourne is Billy Slater, who won the Golden Boot as international player of the year in 2008, but he has high hopes for his understudy. <br> <br> “He’s a good young player,” said the Kangaroo full-back. “He certainly showed on Sunday that he’s got a lot of skill. <br> <br> “He’s a very courageous young kid and he’s certainly going to be great for us in our squad this year. He was player of the year in the Under-20s last year and has developed into a very good footballer.” <br> <br> Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy moved Widdop around the field against Harlequins RL in order to test his versatility and was delighted with his display, highlighted by a near-perfect goalkicking performance. <br> <br> “I don’t know my best position,” said Widdop, who has two years left on his current contract. “I first started as a full-back but then moved into the halves until I went to Oz and then played full-back again all last year. <br> <br> “Playing at full-back gives me a bit more time and Billy being there is good because he’s the best in the world. I’m learning from the best. <br> <br> “My goalkicking on Sunday was on fire. I had a few bad patches last year but I’ve been practising in pre-season a lot and it showed on Sunday.” <br> <br> Bellamy has yet to announce his line-up for Elland Road and that means Widdop’s cousins and grandparents are also on tenterhooks waiting for the decision. <br> <br> “All my family are big Leeds fans so it would be good to get a win over them,” added Widdop. “If I’m in there, I think they’ll support Melbourne but, if not, I think they’ll stick with Leeds.”