Widdop shocked by England call

Gareth Widdop today spoke of his “shock and delight” at being included in England coach Steve McNamara’s squad for the Gillette Fusion International against France at Leigh Sports Village on Saturday June 12.

The former King Cross junior from Halifax is one of 19 players called up for the mid-season international and the third player drawn from Australia’s NRL, where he plays for Melbourne Storm.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet and probably won’t until I arrive back in England next week,” said the 21-year-old. “It’s all happened so quickly.

“It was a bit of a shock when Steve McNamara called me a couple of weeks ago. When I heard the English accent I thought it was a journalist at first asking me about the Storm!

“He said he’d been watching my progress and asked if I was interested in playing for England. I told him it would be a privilege and a dream come true.

“I get my dual citizenship soon which would qualify me to play for Australia but England was always going to come first. I can’t wait to be involved and would love to play against France.

“I know some people will say it’s all a bit soon because I haven’t had a lot of first grade experience in the NRL but I have confidence in what I can do.

“I’m learning all the time here at Melbourne and am taking a lot from working alongside Billy Slater. He’s the best player in the world and although it can be a bit frustrating at times being behind him, I know I’m at the right club.

“I have had the chance to go elsewhere and I know that if I did I’d be playing first grade on a weekly basis but it’s great to be part of a team like Melbourne Storm. That’s the most important thing for me.”

Widdop concedes he might not have enjoyed such a meteoric rise had his family not emigrated to Australia from Halifax five years ago.

“Halifax is a big Rugby League town but there aren’t the opportunities there that exist here in Australia,” he said. “If I hadn’t moved here I’d probably be playing at amateur level back in England.

“Things have worked out well for me. Hopefully I can be involved in the team against France and then, at the end of the year, play my way into selection for the Four Nations.

“That would be unreal! To play for the country of your birth is brilliant: to play against your adopted country as well would be amazing.

“It would mean a lot to me to go head-to-head against Billy; hopefully by then I’ll have done enough for England to prove what I can do.”

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