Widdop: All-Stars Will Be Special
By Tony Webeck (NRL.com)
The opportunity to begin working with master coach Wayne Bennett as a member of the World All Stars team this week has not been lost on Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop with the pair plotting a course that leads to World Cup glory for England.
Their first assignment as coach and primary playmaker is to knock over the Indigenous All Stars and get their hands on the Arthur Beetson Trophy for the first time since 2012 but over the next two years more significant titles await.
Fresh from knocking over the No.1-ranked New Zealand team in a three-Test series last October, England will carry high expectations on home soil to claim a maiden Four Nations title later this year before setting their sights on the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
The appointment of Bennett as England coach for the next two years coincides with an England squad bolstered by a strong representation in the NRL and a growing belief that the southern hemisphere stranglehold can soon be broken.
Injury and form permitting, Widdop, Sam, George and Tom Burgess, James Graham, Joe Burgess, Elliot Whitehead, Josh Hodgson, Jack Reed and Mike Cooper will all push for England inclusion from within the NRL, allowing Bennett to keep close tabs on potentially more than half the squad.
This week's World All Stars camp will be Widdop's first opportunity to work with Bennett and he said he is excited about what he will bring to the England set-up.
"I'm looking forward to it, it's something a bit different. You don't normally get the opportunity to play with a lot of the players that I'm going to play alongside," Widdop said of his maiden All Stars appearance.
"There are a lot of players I've never played with and haven't met before so it's exciting and something that I'm really looking forward to doing.
"Playing under Wayne as well is obviously exciting and looking forward to the week ahead.
"He's a great coach and been around for a while and had a lot of success so I'm really looking forward to spending the week under him and hopefully I get to do that in the future as well."
Whilst excited at the prospect of working with Bennett on a semi-regular basis, Widdop conceded that he did feel for outgoing coach Steve McNamara who has been retained on the England staff as an assistant coach.
In 27 Tests since taking over in 2010 McNamara has overseen 16 England wins and Widdop said he deserves much of the credit for the healthy state of the nation's rugby league program that Bennett will inherit.
"What he's done for England rugby league from when he first came into the job to where it is now it has been a huge improvement and the set-up for England as a country is tremendous now," Widdop said.
"I do feel sorry for him but that's totally out of the players' hands, that's up to the RFL and their decision and that's what they've come up with."