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Gareth Widdop is driven on by World Cup
Gareth Widdop says the prospect of playing in the World Cup drove him on as he fought to recover from what looked sure to be a season-ending injury.
Widdop’s World Cup hopes were hanging by a thread when he dislocated his hip playing for Melbourne Storm in late June but he stunned the medical experts by working his way back to fitness in time for the play-offs in September.
Now he is training with the England squad at their high-altitude camp in South Africa and has his sights set on winning his ninth cap in the opening World Cup match against Australia on October 26.
“I suppose it was quite a major injury,” Halifax-born Widdop said from the camp in Potchefstroom.
“It put me out for about 12 weeks but I was in good hands at Melbourne and I did everything right because I knew the World Cup was at the end of the year.
“When I first did it I thought ‘this could be the end of it’ but, as time went on, I was progressing very quickly and I thought there was definitely a chance.
“Then probably the last six weeks of the actual injury things came on really quickly and I got cleared by the surgeon.
“I always had it in the back of my head that I had a chance of being selected and everything worked out well.
“I played in the finals series so it was good to get a few games under my belt and I’m here, fit and ready to go.”
Widdop, a Bradford Bulls fan who emigrated with his family at the age of 16 and whose dad Gary used to play for Keighley Cougars, will get the chance to improve his match fitness by playing in England’s friendly against Italy at Salford on Saturday week.
But he knows it will be no straight-forward task to force his way into the line-up for the clash with the Kangaroos at the Millennium Stadium a week later.
Widdop, who missed last year’s end-of-season internationals in order to have shoulder surgery, was on the bench throughout the 2011 Four Nations Series as coach Steve McNamara stuck with Kevin Sinfield and Rangi Chase as his half-back pair.
As captain, Sinfield is sure to be in the team to face Australia, which could mean another replacement role at best for the Melbourne stand-off.
“I’ve been selected in the 24-man squad and it’s up to the coaches who makes that final 17 but I’ll be doing everything I can to be in it,” Widdop said.
“It was good to be part of the team (in 2011) but, as a half, it was obviously disappointing that I didn’t get on the field as much as I would have liked.
“But the coaches went that way.
“All I can do is keep pushing for that starting position.
“We’ve a few halves in the team, with Robbie Burrow, Rangi and Kev so it will be interesting to see which way they go.”
As one of five NRL-based players in England’s 24-man squad, Widdop believes he can help McNamara with some inside information on the opposition ahead of the opening game against the tournament favourites.
“We know how they are playing and hopefully we can use that knowledge and experience of playing against them week in and week out to help the team,” he said.
“I think we’ve a very strong squad. Everyone’s fighting for positions which is a great sign and we’re really confident going into the World Cup.”
Meanwhile, the 24-year-old father-of-two says the England players are taking advantage of ideal conditions to hone their preparations and have been given some down time to relax.
“We’ve been here a week now and the weather is beautiful,” he said. “It’s a high-intensity training camp, which is great.
“The first few days it was a case of getting over jet lag but, other than that, the camp’s been great.
“We’ve had one or two days off and done different activities to break up the scenery. Yesterday we went to visit some caves and saw a few animals and I think later in the week we’re going on a safari.”
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