Gareth Widdop believes his former Melbourne teammates will have been greatly affected by Alex McKinnon’s career-ending injury, a reason for their poor recent form.
Melbourne have lost their last two games since Newcastle back-rower McKinnon suffered a devastating spinal injury in a tackle which led to Storm prop Jordan McLean’s seven-match suspension.
Widdop returns to his old stomping ground of Melbourne’s AAMI Park on Monday to play against his former team for the first time since joining St George Illawarra.
He said the Storm players he’d spoken to have been doing it tough since McKinnon’s career-ending injury overshadowed a 28-20 win over the Knights in round three.
“It was a bad injury and a real bad thing to happen in rugby league,” Widdop said.
“No doubt the whole issue has affected them all down there. But they must now try to move on, concentrate on their football.
“But that will have been hard.”
Widdop said the Melbourne players would have also been on the wrong side of Craig Bellamy’s tongue after shipping points in back-to-back losses to Canterbury in Perth and at home to the Gold Coast.
The five-eighth knows all about Bellamy’s intense nature and said his former boss won’t stand for another poor defensive show against the Dragons.
“I am guessing Bellyache (Bellamy) won’t be a happy man at the moment, especially as they’ve been conceding a lot of points,” he said.
“They will be working hard to put that right. I spent long enough down there to know that.
“They’re a great team and we’ll need to be at our best to beat them.”
When the Dragons’ draw for the 2014 season was announced last November Widdop’s eyes went searching for just one opposing team.
Yorkshire born and bred, Widdop’s family emigrated to Melbourne when he was 16 and he came up through the Storm’s lower grades, enjoying huge success at the club.
In 2009 he was part of the U-20s side that won the grand final and three years later played in the team that beat Canterbury to win the NRL premiership.
But Widdop, who announced his switch to the Dragons in the middle of last season, never got the chance to farewell the AAMI Park faithful properly after dislocating his hip against the Titans last June.
Although he recovered to play in the Rugby League World Cup, he remains disappointed at the manner of his exit and relishing his return.
“I have a lot of friends down there and most of my family are still there,” Widdop said.
“My wife’s family are there as well so it will be good to catch up and even better to come away with a win.”
In addition to securing a lucrative contract with the Dragons, the chance to be the main playmaker was the main factor in Widdop decision to leave the Storm.
Having spent all of his career in the shadow of Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith, Widdop said the prospect of eclipsing the big-three is a very appetising one.
“It’s going to be great, I have played (for England) against Cooper, Billy and Cam before when they’ve played for the Aussies and it’s going to be a great challenge for me,” he said.
“I guess it’s more than just another game, but I have to just focus of getting the win.”