St George Illawarra captain Gareth Widdop has embraced the challenge of becoming the main man to transform his team’s lacklustre attack this upcoming NRL season.
After the dramatic exit of popular clubman Benji Marshall over the summer, Widdop has assumed the role of chief playmaker as the Dragons attempt to break the shackles in 2017.
And he will do it without an established halfback heading into round one, with either veteran Josh McCrone or rookie Jai Field fighting it out for the No.7 jumper.
McCrone is slightly favoured to get first crack at the gig, with Widdop believing that the former Canberra halfback complements his style more than the promising youngster.
“It’s changed a hell of a lot since last year. Josh is a bit more like halfback, which will probably suit me, play my natural game a little bit more,” Widdop said.
“Obviously being one of the most experienced players in the team now, I guess it just comes with being skipper as well. I’m looking forward to the year now.”
The 27-year-old admitted that life in Wollongong has been different without the dominant voice of Marshall after the Dragons chose not to hand the playmaker another contract following the club’s poor season.
The former Kiwis captain, who bore much of the criticism levelled at the Dragons last year, moved to Brisbane over the off-season.
“Benji’s obviously the life of the party. The club’s a lot different to what it has been, just for the fact that our staff and turnover we’ve had,” Widdop said.
“Obviously he’s a big character, a big personality. I certainly miss having him around, but it’s opened up opportunities for Josh McCrone, Shaun Nona and Jai.”
Widdop said he is determined to get back to his best.
“As a team we didn’t succeed (last year) and individually, certainly inconsistent if you like. This year, I need to get back to what I do best and what’s going to help the team,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot of new coaches. We struggled a bit last year, so yeah, we’ve changed it up. Obviously the more we play, the better and more comfortable we’ll get in our role and our job.”
The Dragons open their season against Penrith on March 4.