England star Widdop loved the Leigh atmosphere

England half-back Gareth Widdop
England half-back Gareth Widdop

THERE were some Dragons at Leigh Sports Village on Sunday. St George Illawarra Dragons to be precise.

The Australian side are in the UK to play Warrington Wolves on Friday and two of their stars - Gareth Widdop and Trent Merrin - came to see Leigh beat Bradford.

“A lot of the boys won’t have experienced the atmosphere that you get over here,” said Widdop. “The crowd was amazing at Leigh.”

Warrington’s former Leigh stars Micky Higham and Chris Hill also saw Centurions recover from 20-6 down to win 36-24.

Widdop won the first of his 14 England caps in 2011 at Leigh, so it’s a venue that holds special memories for the former Melbourne Storm half-back.

The Halifax-born England stand-off experienced his first taste of international club rugby league five years ago at the age of 20 when he came to the UK with Melbourne Storm for their World Club Challenge clash with Leeds.

He failed to break into the team for that match but returned three years later to help the Storm to an 18-14 win over the Rhinos at Headingley, and will be hoping to repeat the feat with the Dragons - whose assistant coach is former Leigh boss Ian Millward - against the Wolves.

The big difference this time is that, instead of playing a support role to Australia’s famous playmaking trio of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater, Widdop will one of the main men after seeing his bold decision to move away from Melbourne pay off.

“I learned a helluva lot down in Melbourne playing with some of the greatest players ever to have played the game,” Widdop said. “I just felt for my career at the time it was right to move on and make a name for myself.

“I wouldn’t say it was a gamble. I had a lot of success there and obviously to leave that for a club that hadn’t had much success over the last few years was a big move.

“But it was more about myself as a footballer, to go out there and become a dominant ball player and a leader in a team. I really enjoy that.”

Widdop was an ever-present in his first season with Dragons in 2014, when he top-scored with 137 points and found a new half-back partner in former New Zealand captain Benji Marshall, who returned to league halfway through the year after a short-lived move into union.

“Benji is another of the greatest players ever to play the game and to play alongside him is great,” Widdop said.

“He came in halfway through the year and as the season went on we became a bit better. He’s now had a full pre-season and, the more we play together, the better we’ll become.”