sport

Widdop eager to make his mark

Gareth Widdop will be gunning for his England captain Kevin Sinfield when he leads the Melbourne Storm attack against Leeds.

The 23-year-old Halifax-born stand-off is hoping to catch the eye of England coach Steve McNamara ahead of the World Cup, acutely aware of the fact that Sinfield is the man standing in his way of the number six jersey.

Widdop, who emigrated to Australia seven years ago, made his England debut at full-back against France in 2010 but is now the first-choice stand-off for the Storm after playing a key role in their 2012 Grand Final triumph.

After being barely used in the 2011 Four Nations Series and missing last year's autumn internationals through injury, Widdop is keen to make his mark early in World Cup year, starting with Friday's World Club Challenge showdown with the Super League champions.

"Everyone wants to represent their country," he said. "I didn't play too many minutes last time but all I can do is concentrate on playing good football for Melbourne Storm.

"If I get selected for England, then that would be great but for now it's a matter of focusing on playing well for my club team."

After succeeding his Leeds team-mate Jamie Peacock as England skipper and leading them so effectively against France and Wales, Sinfield is widely expected to retain the role for the World Cup.

He is also highly fancied to keep the number six jersey after being named winner of the 2012 Golden Boot ahead of Melbourne and Australia captain Cameron Smith - a selection that drew ridicule from much of the media Down Under.

Widdop had no problem with the choice, however, and appreciates Sinfield's value to both club and country.

"Fair play to him. Everyone is happy for him," Widdop said. "He's a great player and he's done great things in the game. It was well deserved.

"Everyone knows how good a player Kev is. He's played for a number of years now. England need someone like Kev who has a lot of experience. I will be doing everything I can to get selected."

While Sinfield will be making his sixth appearance in the World Club Challenge, Widdop will be featuring in his first, having missed out on selection against the Rhinos in 2010 when he was just breaking into the Melbourne team.

"Three years ago I'd not played first grade," he recalled. "I was one of the young boys.

"It was a good experience and hopefully it will help me out on this trip.

"It was disappointing to miss out but I've had a good two years in the NRL.

"I still want to learn and keep improving my game but obviously I'm very happy with my achievements in the last two and a half years."

Widdop made the switch to stand-off when Brett Finch left Melbourne for Wigan in 2010 but welcomed the extra competition for the spot with Finch's return.

"It's good for myself and some of the other younger players," he said. "It keeps everyone on their toes.

"Finchy is probably one of the most experienced players in our team. He's been around for a while and he brings that extra bit of depth if we have any injuries."

Finch will start his second spell at the club from the bench tomorrow while Widdop renews his half-back partnership with Cooper Cronk, who also missed out in 2010 after being on the losing side when the two sides met in 2008.

Cronk has labelled Friday's contest a series decider while Leeds seek to become the first club to win four world titles.

Meanwhile, Widdop is looking forward to running out for the first time at Headingley, where as a youngster he used to stand on the western terrace to cheer his Bradford idols.

"I was a massive fan of the Bradford Bulls and I've been here a few times," he said.

"My favourite player was Robbie Paul - he was pretty much the reason I supported the Bulls - and there were players like Lesley Vainikolo, Joe Vagana and Shontayne Hape in the team."

Also in that star-studded Bulls line-up were front row partners Brian McDermott and James Lowes - now the coaches in charge of Leeds and hoping to make Widdop's first competitive senior club game in England a disappointing experience.