Brits Down Under: Widdop stars as Dragons fend off the Tigers

Ever since Adrian Morley got sent off inside 15 seconds in a Test match against Australia we’ve taken notice of English players in the NRL.

Granted, Morley had already won a Premiership by then and Martin Offiah had also enjoyed success with the Dragons in the early 90s, but that was the moment where English players started to truly stand out.

Now they’re everywhere in the NRL, as clubs in Australia look for a recruitment difference, and English players look to test themselves against the best. In this weekly column, we give you a quick round-up of how the current crop fared.

Knights v Storm

The Melbourne Storm have a shocking record without Cameron Smith – losing something like 80% of their games without the influential rake. If the Newcastle Knights were ever going to get a win over the completion leaders it would have been Friday night.

However, those thoughts were quickly doused by Billy Slater and a new Smith, Kiwi hooker, Brandon Smith. The Storm thrashed a Knights side containing Englishman, Joe Wardle, by 40-12.

Wardle was industrious playing in the centres, making 27 tackles, but as has been the case for most of the year, did little with the ball, aside from running great lines but never receiving the ball (it happens a lot). Thought: that’s also a reflection of the lack of possession the Knights earned.

For those interested, Wardle gets plenty of love in the Knights supporter forums. Praised highly for his solid defence most weeks and always close to their most valuable.

Dragons v Tigers

Gareth Widdop’s personal success this season seems to mimic that of his teams. When he plays well they win, when he doesn’t or when he’s been injured they lose.

Widdop was again at the forefront of their hard-fought win against the Tigers on Saturday, scoring two tries, had a line-break and four tackle busts in an excellent attacking display. His effort was only slightly marred by his seven missed tackles.

Returning from injury, Widdop helped his team get out to an early lead – an advantage they did enough to hold on to against a fast-finishing Tigers team led by James Tedesco.

Titans v Cowboys

The Titan’s geezers, and it’s only really one purebred and one import, were kept busy defensively in their loss to the Cowboys. In a game that won’t be remembered for its attacking intent, Joe Greenwood was called upon to make 36 tackles (he also missed seven, like Widdop) and Chris McQueen 17 (in only 28 minutes).

Greenwood’s missed tackle count is often high due to having to cover for the defensively inept Kane Elgey beside him and made to look worse this week because of giant Coen Hess often aiming for him.

That said, both would be disappointed with their efforts in the meek loss. However, they should rebound against the even worse Warriors outfit next week.

Raiders v Sea-Eagles

In a surprise upset, the Canberra Raiders were beaten by Manly in golden point – the second time this year a match between these two teams went to extra time.

Both Elliot Whitehead and Josh Hodgson were slightly below their best in the defeat. Whitehead again missing a few too many tackles (four this week) and turning the ball over twice, and Hodgson, simply lacking spark in his running game.

This year, Hodgson has run for over 100 metres on only two occasions, compared with five times at this point last year. He’s way behind Isaac Luke as the leading dummy half runner this year and could target that portion of his game for improvement.

He’ll rediscover that form though, remember this time last year he was leading the Dally M voting for player of the year.

Alarmingly, a collective 22 missed tackles from the Brits this week – but plenty of positives too with tries, line breaks and busts frequent even without the huge Burgess boys and James Graham (injured).

For more on this week’s NRL action, have a read of our list of the five most important things learned during the round, or check out how your team got on in the full list of results.