‘He wanted to play for Halifax’ - Panthers head coach Liam Finn determined to ‘get a smile back’ on Gareth Widdop’s face as NRL star seals homecoming move

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Halifax-born former NRL star Gareth Widdop has sealed a move to his hometown club on a one-year deal - and Panthers head coach Liam Finn is hoping ‘to get a smile back on his face.’

The experienced 34-year-old emigrated to Australia when he was 12 and starred for Melbourne Storm and St George Illawarra Dragons, who he captained, before spells in Super League with Warrington and Castleford followed.

After the eye-catching signing announcement, Finn said:

“It was just a case of all the planets aligning at the same time. I think Gaz has always wanted a bit of a swan song with Halifax, being a Halifax lad. And the club is always interested in local, quality lads coming and playing for us. And there is none finer in recent years than him in terms of a Halifax-born lad going around the world and achieving what he has done.

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Gareth Widdop has signed for his hometown club. (Photo credit: Halifax Panthers)Gareth Widdop has signed for his hometown club. (Photo credit: Halifax Panthers)
Gareth Widdop has signed for his hometown club. (Photo credit: Halifax Panthers)

“He could have gone elsewhere for a lot more money, without a doubt. But he wanted to play for Halifax. He is in it for the right reasons, as are we. We want that last bit out of him and we also want him to enjoy his rugby as maybe that is something he hasn’t been doing as much in recent years due to all sorts of different circumstances.

“We want to get a smile back on his face and we believe, if we do that, then we will get the best out of him.”

Finn also believes the former Great Britain and England international half back can help get the best out of his team-mates, although he doesn’t want any pressure adding to his shoulders.

He said: “Whether it is one year or longer, I think we can utilise him and help strengthen our pivot players for the years to come with his knowledge.

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“He was captain at St George Illawarra Dragons for a couple of years, so he is not short of leadership responsibilities. We have named our captains - Joe Keyes and Adam O’Brien as co-captains and Bob Fairbank as vice - but that doesn’t stop others from showing leadership.

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“But, having said that, part and parcel of getting a smile back on his face and getting him enjoying his rugby and getting the best out of him is probably not to have the whole of the town’s expectations dumped on his shoulders and all the lads around him looking for him to do everything.

“We are not short of experience but we know he will add to that.”

Widdop did not feature in Fax’s Boxing Day friendly defeat at Odsal against Bradford Bulls, with Finn confirming he is in need of a few weeks of training.

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Summing up the 24-16 loss, played in “horrendous” conditions, Finn said:

“There is stuff to take out of it, like any game. It is that time of year when you are learning about your players and trying to even out the game time to combine being match ready and getting the contact areas sorted.

“As much as we would have loved to have won the game, there is a bigger picture at the minute.”

“The conditions were horrendous but they were the same for both teams. They were ideal for a bit of tackling practice and slowing the game down a little bit and taking a little bit of edge out of the contacts for a first hit out.”