Halifax-born playmaker Gareth Widdop is banking on personal experience paying dividends in Sunday’s NRL Grand Final in Sydney.
The former King Cross and Old Brodleians junior, the son of former Calderdale amateur Gary who emigrated with his family in his late teens, will line up at stand off for the Melbourne Storm when they face off against the Bulldogs in the southern hemisphere decider at ANZ Stadium.
It is the biggest challenge so far in the 23 year old’s career, but after weighing in with two tries as the Storm’s under 20s clinched the Toyota Cup title curtain raiser two years ago, Widdop is not heading into unchartered waters.
“That’s going to help; I have some good memories from that game and I know what to expect from the occasion and the atmosphere in the stadium,” said Widdop.
“It’s a massive occasion, there’s going to be 80,000 people in there and to be playing in a Grand Final at this stage of my career is a huge achievement for me.
“Some blokes play their whole career, 10 or 12 years, and never get near one, so to be going there in my second season of NRL is great.
“It’s something I couldn’t have imagined when I was a kid, living in Australia and being in a game like this.
“I always dreamed of playing in a Super League final, but league is such a big deal out here that this seems that much bigger. It’s been a hectic week, but I’m excited to get out there now and start playing.”
Sunday will be the Storm’s first Grand Final since they were stripped of multiple titles for systematic breaches of the salary cap, although Widdop insists recent history has not featured on the pre-match agenda of super coach Craig Bellamy or that of superstar trio Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater.
“A lot has changed since then,” said Widdop. “There are different people running the club, different coaches, different players.
“It’s not an issue; we just want to go out there and win a Grand Final.”
Widdop drew critical acclaim from notorious pundit Phil Gould for his performance in last week’s sudden-death win over Souths.
But the full-back turned ball-player insists there is more to come.
“I’m still relatively new to the position really and still improving,” said Widdop, who was on Halifax’s scholarship scheme as a youngster.
“You never stop learning as a player and being alongside such great players in this team I think I’ll get better over the next few years.”