AHEAD of the World Club Series, St George-Illawarra’s England star Gareth Widdop admits he is “really fortunate” to have already featured with some of the sport’s finest players.
The Halifax-born stand-off, who emigrated to Australia aged 16 before being spotted by NRL club Melbourne Storm, will line up alongside Kiwi superstar Benji Marshall in Friday’s opener at Warrington Wolves.
Having spent his formative years with the likes of Australia captain Cameron Smith in Melbourne and now linking with another legend, the Yorkshireman is certainly enjoying the career he has forged for himself.
“I’ve been really fortunate to have played with some of the greatest to have played the game,” said the 25-year-old, who was himself rated the fourth-best performer in the NRL during 2014, his debut campaign at St George.
“At Storm there was Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and a halves partnership with Cooper Cronk and now Benji’s here I’ve played with some of the best in the world so, for myself, it’s been great.
“It was hard for Benji last year coming in halfway through the season back from union.
“But he’s had a full pre-season now and we’ve had four weeks to train together so I think you’ll see the Benji of old this weekend.
“He’s an amazing talent. I’m still learning and he’s done such a lot in rugby league so it’s brilliant to be playing alongside him,” he said.
Widdop, who won the World Club Challenge with Melbourne against Leeds Rhinos at Headingley in 2013, is looking forward to it even more now that is has been expanded beyond just the champions of each competition.
Wigan Warriors host Brisbane Broncos on Saturday before Super League victors St Helens take on NRL premiers South Sydney for the crown on Sunday.
“It’s great for English rugby league,” said the player, who was an ever-present for his country in last autumn’s Four Nations.
“With the NRL it’s pretty much the No 1 sport over there and has a lot of backing. But hopefully NRL teams coming over here and playing in these one-off games can boost rugby league not only within the UK but broaden it in other countries, too.”
On Warrington, he added: “They’re a fine side. Their game starts up front with Chris Hill while Daz Clark does his stuff off the back of that. I know both from the England camp and just how dangerous they are.”