Storm ready to shut down Widdop
After four seasons of benefitting from Gareth Widdop's creativity and precision, the Melbourne Storm will now have to find a way to combat it when they play host to the Dragons next Monday night.
Widdop last year signed a lucrative four-year deal to join St George Illawarra and for the first time will make the trip back to the state where his NRL career began.
The 25-year-old's move to the Red V has enabled him to step out of the shadow of the Storm's 'Big Three' and assume the mantle of the Dragon's number one playmaker. After five rounds Widdop ranks equal first in the NRL for try assists with six to his name.
The Englishman has had his kicking boots on, recording 1,176 kick meters (239 more than he notched all of last season) and has kicked truly in 16 of 20 conversions attempts.
It is a scintillating start to the year that has not gone unnoticed by his former teammate, Melbourne forward Ryan Hoffman.
"Gaz went up there with a lot of expectation and it's great to see he is living up to that," Hoffman said.
"He was a fantastic player with us and it is certainly no surprise to us he has flourished in his role up there."
"He has that bit of X-factor to come up with something special. It's been good as a spectator to watch Gaz play but it will be up to us to nullify him on Monday night."
Stopping Widdop will be a key focus for the Storm as they look to overturn a two-game losing streak.
Despite being ahead of the ledger at 3-2, it is their poorest start to a season in five years.
A poor defense that has leaked 88 points in the past three weeks is a key area Craig Bellamy's side will need to address, particularly against a Dragons outfit that has improved from 15th in points scored last season to current sit third in this statistic.
"I think teams are coming up with some good structures and we just need to be able to adjust on the run," Hoffman said.
"Also it is a case of a lot of little things adding up to one big thing and that one big thing has been a try."
The Storm have defended extremely well against the Dragons in recent history, keeping St George Illawarra to single-figure scores in six of their past seven meetings – including three shutouts.
Just once in the past seven years have the Storm lost two straight home games, and with the Dragons' last win in Melbourne coming back in 1999 history may be on the Victorian club's side.
However the Dragons proved many doubters wrong, winning their first three games of a season for the first time in four years and appear to be building under embattled coach Steve Price.
Monday night's game between the Storm and Dragons will be at AAMI Park at 7pm.
Watch the NRL LIVE with a 2-week free trial.
Get the NRL Digital Pass now!