Gareth Widdop’s captaincy has yanked St George Illawarra out of a worrying early season slump, according to Dragons coach Paul McGregor, evidenced by their 20-18 win over Sydney Roosters on Anzac Day.
Widdop’s captaincy had been heavily criticised after heavy back-to-back NRL losses earlier this month, but he piloted the Dragons to a controversial win against a Roosters side finishing fast.
“There was never one thought in my mind to ever take the captaincy off Gareth,” McGregor said.
“He is new at the role and it has taken him a while to understand that role, but he competes on every play.
“You look at his performances over the last two weeks, he is a big reason as to why we have won both those games.”
Widdop said he has grown into the captaincy role, since taking over at the start of the season.
“It is a new challenge for me, and you learn along the way and the last few weeks I have learnt not to worry about everyone else, and worry about myself first,” he said.
First half tries to Widdop, Jason Nightingale and Kalifa Faifai Loa put the Dragons out to an 18-0 lead at the break.
The Roosters were the better side in the second half and scored tries through Jake Friend, Latrell Mitchell and Ryan Matterson to have the Dragons clinging on for dear life in the final minutes.
A controversial penalty for a late tackle on Mitch Rein by Kane Evans in the 50th minute and the ensuing penalty goal proved to be the difference.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson was incensed by a number of decisions that went against his side including the penalty against Evans and Dylan Napa being placed on report for a high tackle on Taane Milne with minutes remaining.
“I am not saying we would have won, I am saying we should have had a chance to win,” he said.
“We forced that error and we should have had a chance to win that game.”
Roosters prop Sam Moa was put on report for a shoulder charge on Widdop, while interchange forward Eloni Vunakece is also on report for a crusher tackle on Jason Nightingale.
Benji Marshall is expected to return from a hamstring injury for the Dragons’ next match against the Warriors in Auckland next Sunday.
The Roosters next face Newcastle at home on Saturday night.