Widdop runs wild as Dragons stun Panthers
LET your actions do the talking.
It's a rugby league cliche but if Gareth Widdop's actions were words, they'd be something to effect of "give me a new contract".
Almost four years ago Widdop signed a lucrative deal with St George Illawarra worth close to $650,000 a season, or $2.5 million.
Now off-contract and with an uncertain future after the club shelled out $1 million-plus a season for Ben Hunt in 2018, the 27-year-old has wasted little time pushing his case.
The five-eighth was brilliant in Saturday's 42-10 win over Penrith, scoring two tries and setting up another.
While the Panthers' attack looked disjointed for the bulk of the game, the Red V were flying.
The Dragons' new recruits wasted little time showing their worth with Paul Vaughan making some determined runs, Cameron McInnes scheming around the ruck and Nene Macdonald producing some huge defensive efforts.
The Dragons kicked their season off with McInnes delivering a short ball to Joel Thompson who barged over the top of Matt Moylan and Bryce Cartwright for the first try.
From there Gareth Widdop lifted his side.
After securing repeat set with a perfectly weighted kick, Widdop put a short pass between Cartwright and Te Maire Martin minutes later for Thompson to cross for his second.
Shortly after Martin made up for the defensive lapse when he engaged the line and offloads to Waqa Blake on the flank.
Blake pulled off a Superman-like dive to ground the ball just inches from the touch line and reduced the margin by eight.
Four minutes from halftime Moses Leota spilt the ball and Jack De Belin made the Panthers pay.
Off an inside ball from McInnes, De Belin pushed past Peter Wallace, Latu and Moylan before lunging for the line and gifted his team an 18-4 lead at the break.
After losing Drew Hutchison to an ACL injury in the pre-season, Josh McCrone won the battle for the No.7 jersey.
Five minutes into the second half and McCrone produced a banana kick in-field with Widdop beating Wallace and Moylan to the ball to score the try.
The Panthers hit back shortly after when Martin produced a perfectly timed tip on to Moylan who lobbed the ball to Tyrone Peachey who scored in the corner.
Trailing 24-10, Cleary made a dive for the line but was denied when McCrone's knee knocked the ball out.
Seconds later the Dragons went the length of the field with Dugan setting up a try for McInnes when he kicked for himself, regathered and shuffled the ball wide.
"Penrith have been really poor," Fox Sports commentator Brett Kimmorley said of the Panthers.
"Their attitude has stunk."
Widdop scored his second after Nightingale picked up a stray pass from Martin and popped the ball up for his playmaker to stroll over.
With 10 minutes remaining Widdop gave a short ball to Thompson who broke the Panthers' line and the backrower secured his hat-trick, the first of his 10-year career.