Gareth Widdop explains reasons behind Halifax Panthers homecoming: ‘It was always something in the back of my mind’

Drew Darbyshire
Gareth Widdop England Alamy

Gareth Widdop in action for England at the World Cup 9s in 2019 - Alamy

Former Great Britain and England international Gareth Widdop has detailed the reasons behind why he has joined hometown club Halifax Panthers.

The 34-year-old half-back has linked up with his boyhood club Halifax on a one-year deal for the 2024 Championship campaign.

Widdop will bring a wealth of experience to Liam Finn’s side next season, having made more than 250 appearances in the NRL and Super League for Melbourne Storm, St George Illawarra Dragons, Warrington Wolves and Castleford Tigers.

The Halifax-born playmaker won 32 international caps in total for Great Britain and England, representing his country in two World Cups as well as being selected on the Lions tour of the southern hemisphere in 2019.

Widdop announced his retirement from the professional game at the end of the 2023 season – but he will continue his career with part-time Championship club Halifax in 2024.

Speaking to the Halifax club website about his homecoming, Widdop said: “It’s pretty surreal to be honest. As a little boy growing up in Halifax, being able to live out a dream in Australia for 15/16 years, I never thought this day would come.

“I’m absolutely buzzing, I’m sure a lot of my family and friends are super proud and happy for that little boy back then growing up to pull on this jersey.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my career to do wonderful things, play in Australia for a number of years, representing my country, so to finish off and pull on this jersey is great.

“The club have given me an opportunity to come home and hopefully with my experience within the game, I can come here, play some good rugby league and help as much as I can.

“It was always something in the back of my mind to be able to finish off at Halifax, obviously growing up here, that’s all I ever wanted to play for.

“I’m looking forward to next year now, I’m still fit and healthy and ready to go.”

Halifax Panthers coach Liam Finn ‘excited’ to welcome Gareth Widdop to The Shay

Panthers coach Finn says he is over the moon to secure the services of Widdop, who won an NRL Premiership with Melbourne back in 2012 and was named Dally M five-eighth of the year in 2017 whilst at the Dragons.

Finn said: “We’re really excited to get Gareth on board and it’s a signing that the people of Halifax should be excited about.

“It’s no secret he’s a Halifax lad and been successful around the world and playing in the NRL for a long time, and he was a superstar in the NRL for a period as well.

“He’s up for it and just wants to do well for the team and for the town and it’ll be important that we get him in, enjoying his rugby and get the best out of him.

“If we can get a smile back on his face and get some quality out of him on the field, then everybody wins.”

Homecoming of ‘hometown hero’ Gareth Widdop a ‘monumental moment’ for Halifax Panthers

Panthers chief executive Damian Clayton says the signing of Widdop is a ‘monumental moment’ for the West Yorkshire club as they enter a new era under new head coach Finn.

Clayton added: “I’m thrilled to announce the signing of Gareth Widdop, a true icon of rugby league.

“Gareth’s illustrious career, spanning over 13 years, which has seen him shine as a Premiership winner and a distinguished player for both Melbourne Storm and St George Illawarra Dragons to international stardom, is a source of immense pride for our community.

“Gareth’s homecoming is a monumental moment for the club. His vast experience, both in the NRL and in international arenas, brings invaluable knowledge and leadership.

“His return is a major boost for the Halifax Panthers, signalling an exciting chapter ahead. For our young players and the wider rugby league community here, Gareth epitomises the mantra of achieving greatness through hard work and perseverance.

“His transition from a local Halifax youth to a rugby league icon embodies a narrative that deeply resonates with us.

“We are not just gaining a player – we are welcoming back a hometown hero whose influence will extend beyond the field.”

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