World Cup: England will focus on what is within their control, insists Widdop

Gareth Widdop pictured during England training at Lakeside Stadium, in Melbourne  (Picture: Brendon Ratnayakee/
Gareth Widdop pictured during England training at Lakeside Stadium, in Melbourne (Picture: Brendon Ratnayakee/
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Gareth Widdop is hoping for a happy return while at the same time looking to upset a few of his former team-mates when England kick off the World Cup in Melbourne on Friday.

The Halifax-born stand-off spent the first four years of his professional career in Melbourne, learning the game from all-time greats Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, before moving on to St George Illawarra in 2014.

He will be back at AAMI Park on Friday for the first time in three years, hoping England can avenge a 16-12 loss to Australia and make it a miserable start for the Cup holders’ famous three, who still form the spine of the Kangaroos team.

“I think it’s a good rugby league stadium,” said Widdop, after England’s training session at Albert Park on the other side of the city. “I haven’t had a game here for three years, so it’s good to get back there.

“Cronk, Smith and Slater are a bit older, but they’re still smart players. It’s always a good challenge, though. You want to play against the best players in the world and we’ll get the opportunity on Friday to do that.

“They’re a big part of my journey I suppose as I started down in Melbourne. I speak to them every now and then.”

While the considerable threat of Smith, Cronk and Slater – the latter having recovered from career-threatening shoulder surgery – still exists, at least England will not be tormented by Johnathan Thurston, who is ruled out with a similar injury.

Australia coach Mal Meninga has opted to go with Michael Morgan over James Maloney and Widdop’s Melbourne successor Cameron Munster as the half-back partner for Cronk.

“JT is a big part, but the Aussies have another six stand-offs they can pick from,” said Widdop. “For us, it’s about what we can control. We all know they’re a good team.”

Meanwhile, Sam Burgesss has hit back at claims by former Rugby Football Union director of professional rugby Rob Andrew that his selection by then coach Stuart Lancaster for the 2015 Rugby Union World Cup was an “almighty blunder”.

Burgess, who returned to rugby league after being made a scapegoat for England’s failure to reach the quarter-finals, said: “Rob wasn’t really around the camp, Rob didn’t see the work I put in, Rob didn’t see how I contributed to the squad. Rob’s seeing it from – in my opinion – an outsider’s view. I’m very proud of my performance for England and what I contributed to the team. Unfortunately results didn’t go as we planned.”