Storm alerted to Widdop's return
After four seasons of benefiting from Gareth Widdop's creativity and precision, the Melbourne Storm will this time have to find a way to combat it when it plays host to the Dragons on 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 Dragons' No.1 playmaker.
After five rounds Widdop ranks equal first in the NRL with six try assists to his name.
The Englishman has also taken over the majority of kicking in general play – his 1,176 kick metres through five rounds are 239m more than he notched all of last season at Melbourne – and he has kicked truly in 16 of 20 conversion attempts.
It is a scintillating start to the year that has not gone unnoticed by his former teammate, Storm back-rower Ryan Hoffman.
"'Gaz' went up there with a lot of expectation and it's great to see he is living up to that," said Hoffman.
"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-match losing streak.
Despite being ahead of the ledger at 3-2, it is their poorest start to a season in five years.
An uncharacteristically leaky defence that has conceded 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 currently sit third in this statistic.
"Teams are coming up with some good structures and we just need to be able to adjust on the run," said Hoffman.
"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 has 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 shut-outs.
Just once (2012) in the past seven years has 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 in winning their first three games of a season for the first time in four years and with a host of fresh faces have developed into a dangerous outfit under coach Steve Price.