When news happens, text CHRON and your photos or videos to 80360. Or contact us by email & phone.
Widdop eyeing key role
Gareth Widdop is hoping England coach Steve McNamara takes a hint from Australia captain Cameron Smith by giving him a key role in Saturday's World Cup opener at the Millennium Stadium.
McNamara is expected to stick with his half-back pairing of Kevin Sinfield and Rangi Chase when he names his team this week, leaving Widdop and Rob Burrow to fight it out for a place on the bench alongside three forwards.
Smith, a team-mate of Widdop at Melbourne for the last four years, believes the Halifax-born stand-off was underused in the 2011 Four Nations Series and deserves a starting spot against the Kangaroos in Cardiff.
"He's a good young kid," Smith said. "I love playing beside Gareth and hopefully he gets a fair amount of time for the English side in this tournament.
"He's a very dangerous player. He certainly is a threat.
"I believe they're going to start with Sinfield and Rangi Chase but he's a valuable half to have in your side, particularly starting.
"I think he's got wonderful skill and he's a very dangerous runner of the football, which I don't think too many halves do these days.
"I think they worry too much about putting other blokes into gaps and being there for their kicking game.
"But he's a very strong runner of the football. I think he grew up playing a lot of full-back so he's very elusive and agile.
"He's an instinctive guy. He can play to structures but he's not a guy that's stuck in his ways.
"Whatever pops up in front of him he'll play to and they're the most dangerous guys to defend against because sometimes they don't know what they're doing."
Widdop, who has completed a remarkable recovery from a dislocated hip, has yet to discover whether he will have a role to play on Saturday but admits he is grateful for Smith's encouraging words.
"It's nice of him to say that," Widdop said at the England camp in Loughborough. "Hopefully I do get a chance. That's what I want to be doing.
"I've played a number of years over there in first grade now and I definitely see myself as a starting player.
"We only got back (into camp) late last night and we haven't had a training session yet. I've no doubt either today or tomorrow we'll have a team in place that Steve thinks is right for the weekend."
As one of five England players based in the NRL, Widdop believes he can provide an insight into the opposition and in particular the Kangaroos playmaking trio of Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater, his team-mates at the Storm.
"There's a handful of us out there now," he said. "I've played alongside the main three - the half-back, hooker and the full-back - for the last three or four years so we do have a lot of insight on how they play.
"It's going to be hard to stop them but I definitely do think it helps me playing in that competition over there."
While Widdop waits to hear his fate, his NRL colleagues James Graham and brothers Sam and George Burgess are assured of places in the England team after enjoying huge seasons with their clubs in 2013.
Widdop is particularly revelling in the chance to line up alongside the brothers instead of against them.
"It was great," he said. "I've played against them the last few years. After having big Sammy and now big George running at you, it's great to be alongside them.
"They've had great years and hopefully they will help the team out.
"George was unstoppable at times and hopefully he will bring that to the England team. He caused havoc over there so hopefully he can do it in the World Cup."
Widdop knows England will need to find a dramatic improvement on their 15-14 defeat by minnows Italy at Salford last Saturday if they are to open their campaign with a major scalp.
"It was unacceptable but it's been and gone and we have to move on," he said. "Luckily it wasn't round one of the World Cup.
"We're going to have to fix a lot of things up. Otherwise it's going to be hard for us.
"It's going to be one of the biggest games of our careers, playing in a World Cup against Australia at the Millennium. I think it's a great way to start the tournament off.
"If we stick to our plan and our structures, we can beat them."