How Good Is: Gareth Widdop
Plaudits come thick and fast to a player when he’s surrounded by the likes of Melbourne’s trio of Australian representatives in Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk. Being around that company will only help one’s game exponentially - but when the player is then left on their "own", the rugby league field can be a scary place.
There's a list of talented players who have left clubs such as Melbourne and failed to live up to expectation despite their new big-money deals. But there's no such negativity surrounding 25-year-old five-eighth Gareth Widdop following his dramatic start to the 2014 season for St George Illawarra.
An England representative and Grand Final winner – both in the NYC and NRL – Widdop arrived at the Dragons this season with the club desperate for a return to the sort of play and success that saw them carry off the 2010 premiership. Indeed, Dragons fans were left with a throbbing headache after their 2013 efforts. That was until they saw Gareth Widdop play. With analgesic effect, Widdop released the pressure from fans' heads within an hour of his first game in the famous Red V.
Widdop has immediately confirmed he's not just a "finisher" but also a creator of plays in his own right. Through the opening three rounds of 2014, Widdop leads the way for try assists (with six) and ranks equal second for line break assists (with five). It's early days, but the signs are good, and it seems it's just a matter of how far he can take the Dragons – along with the Storm the only undefeated teams - in 2014.
Trademark Plays: He has one of the best sidesteps in the game and is surprisingly fast off the mark. But it's his ability to see and execute opportunities, as well as confuse defenders and draw them in while holding the ball in two hands, that are arguably his biggest assets.
His kicking game has also been a highlight. In Round 2 against the Warriors, Widdop pulled off several successful chip-and-chases, a 180-degree turn into a left-foot field goal, an impeccable goal kicking radar and a grubber kick that led to an Adam Quinlan try. And in Round 3 it was his spur-of-the-moment chip that saw Brett Morris score one of the tries of the season.
Key Moments: His Scott Sattler-esque try-scoring tackle on a runaway Josh Reynolds in the 2012 Grand Final, alongside his last-ditch try in the 2011 NYC Grand Final to secure victory for the young Thunderbolts are a few things that won’t be forgotten anytime soon by Storm fans. Alas! Now that he has a Red V emblazoned across his chest – it is now a whole different ball game. His orchestration of the Dragons' Round 1, 44-24 victory over the Wests Tigers was an obvious highlight in his first appearance for the side - notching three try assists to firmly announce his arrival.
With the skills he's showing this early in the competition, expect Widdop to be high up the Dally M competition ladder when the whips are cracking in September.