Widdop to learn from 2016

Ready to lead: St George Illawarra captain Gareth Widdop has made 72 appearances in the Red V since joining the Dragons from Melbourne in 2014. Picture: John VeageThe 2016 season was a tough one for Gareth Widdop but the St George Illawarra captain is hopeful of using what he learnt last year to become a better player –and a better leader.

Widdop endured a difficultseason as the Dragons struggled in finishing a disappointing 11th in his first year as skipper.

But a new season, new signings and a fresh approach has given Widdop cause for optimism heading into round one.

“The Dragons is probably one of the biggest brands in the game. They’ve had a lot of success over a number of years,” he said.

“And fans obviously demand success, it just comes with the territory of playing for the Red V. As players there’s not much we can do about that, we just have to go out and try and perform.

“I learnt a hell of a lot from last year. We didn’t have much of our leadership [group] lastyear. Obviously Benny Creagh had to retire due to injury and Benji [Marshall] didn’t play many games.

“We didn’t have too many experienced players out there but I worked really hard on that over the off-season. We’ve got a leadership group together. Like I said, I learnt a hell of a lot last year which I’ll be better for this year.”

With Marshall having left the club for Brisbane there is now a vacancy as Widdop’s halves partner. Josh McCrone has been mooted, as has young under-20s star Jai Field.

McCrone started the Charity Shield loss to South Sydney while Field played the second half of that clash and was outstanding in the Auckland Nines.

Whoever gets the nod for round one, Widdop is keen to see how the Dragons’ new look side –with new signings Paul Vaughan, Nene Macdonald and Cameron McInnes –handle the well-fancied Penrith Panthersat UOW Jubilee Oval on Saturday afternoon.

“It’s good we get a home game up at Kogarah.Obviously it’ll be a tough battle against the Panthers. They had a great year last year and they’ll want to improve again this year. It’ll be a good test to see where we’re at,” he said.

“They had a great team last year and they’ve only made it stronger this year with the signings they’ve got. They’re going to be a tough team to beat this year but for us it’s just about focusing on what we can do and make sure we’re doing everything right to give ourselves a chance.

“Every game you want to go out and play well and that’s exactly what we’ll try to do.

“Cameron McInnes I think has been great for us. Paul Vaughan has been great. We’ve all trained really hard over the pre-season, now it’s about going out and performing.”

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