Widdop welcomes quality time with Marshall

DRAGONS halves Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop expect their combination to be stronger in 2015. Picture: ADAM McLEANIT’S all anyone wants to talk about but star playmaker Gareth Widdop says the focus on his partnership with Benji Marshall is warranted as they look to steer the Dragons to their first finals appearance in four years.

The pair were forced to build a combination on the run last year when Marshall joined the club midseason. After some early teething problems they managed to steer the Dragons to within one win of an unlikely finals berth leaving fans salivating at the prospect of what they could achieve with full preseason under their belts.

It means they’re constantly fielding questions about their progress but Widdop is just as excited by their potential.

‘‘If you’ve got a strong halves combination it certainly does help the team a lot and having the extra time working with Benji as a halves partnership is going to help us,’’ Widdop said.

‘‘Last year coming in trying to change things halfway through the year was always going to difficult whereas this year [McGregor’s] had the chance to sit down and write out a plan for what structures he wants to run with this year and we’ve had a solid preseason doing that.’’

He went without finals football for the first time in his career but the 2014 season – his first with the Dragons – was by any measure a breakout one for the 25-year-old who led Dally M voting over the first half of the season and established himself as one of the game’s elite playmakers. But the sharpups and downs of the club’s rollercoaster year meant he welcomed an extended break following the Four Nations.

‘‘It’s obviously quite a long season so it’s good to get away and spend some quality time with the family,’’ Widdop said.

‘‘I think that’s important, if you come back too early and you’re not quite ready for it mentally it makes the season a lot harder and a lot longer. It got to the stage where I really enjoyed my break and I just wanted to get back into training.’’

After steering the side himself for much of the preseason Marshall said Widdop has made a seamless return since rejoining the squad three weeks ago.

‘‘He just slotted straight back in like he’d never been gone,’’ Marshall said,

‘‘He was looking pretty fit when he came back and he’s just a world class player. He takes so much pressure off me and makes my job a lot easier. I feel like when he’s out there I can play a lot better.’’

The pair won’t re-unite on the paddock until the Charity Shield with Marshall to skipper the Dragons at the Auckland Nines while Widdop will lead the bulk of squad against the Mackay Cutters on Saturday.

‘‘I’ve only been back three weeks now and Mary thought it would be more beneficial going up to Mackay and directing the boys around,’’ Widdop said.

‘‘We’ve got new structures and new players in that side and I think it’s more beneficial to get solid game minutes under my belt with the new players and the new structures.’’

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