Wonderful Widdop stars again

The move of Gareth Widdop to fullback continues to prove a masterstroke, with the St George Illawarra Dragons star a standout for England in Saturday's 20-18 semi-final victory over Tonga.

Better known as a five-eighth these days, Widdop's return to his former position has been one of the major positives for coach Wayne Bennett's side so far and in Auckland he laid on two of England's tries against Tonga and scored the other, causing constant issues with his evasive running.

The 28-year-old now shapes as a key figure ahead of meeting Australia in the Rugby League World Cup final on Saturday, where he is likely to line up opposite Billy Slater in the No.1 jersey.

"It's been good, I'm just happy to be part of the team and play my role wherever Wayne wants to put me. I haven't been back at fullback for six or seven years now, but I am really enjoying it," Widdop said.

"If Wayne goes that way again, it's funny how it all works out, I did my apprenticeship at Melbourne under Bill as a fullback in my junior career.

"He is a great player and I learned a lot from him. He is one of the best fullbacks to ever play the game, so you'd be silly not to listen to him. 

"He is great for young kids and I certainly got a lot from him in Melbourne."

‌After polling third overall in this year's Dally M Awards while playing at five-eighth, Widdop has emerged as England's best fullback option, moving past Jonny Lomax and Stefan Ratchford who started the first two games of the tournament in the position. 

Since officially becoming the starting fullback Widdop has set up six tries in three games and averages over 100 running metres, with teammate James Roby quick to praise him following England booking their first World Cup final spot since 1995.

"He is showing his class in the fact that he can play two positions so well," Roby said.

"Over here everyone sees him as a halfback, which he is more than capable of, but I think Gareth at fullback almost gives us another halfback on the field.

"He can link up and put on plays and he is also a threat running at fullback. It probably has allowed him to show a bit more of his skill.

"I thought he was great for us, he came up with the ball at some key moments and there was some dangerous stuff he had to clean up, with a lot of pressure on him and the big Tongan lads coming through trying to belt him.

"He made a couple of breaks early doors and was a real livewire."