It is no exaggeration to say that the Melbourne Storm have some players who rank among the best ever in their positions – household names wherever the game is played. But in their squad for the World Club Challenge at Elland Road tonight there is also a young man who would be unlikely to attract a glance of recognition in his home town of Halifax.
Gareth Widdop was 15 when his family moved from West Yorkshire to Melbourne and had already appeared on the radar of his local professional club. At the time of his departure, however, he was playing nothing more than a little social rugby union at under-16s.
"That's probably what I'd still be doing," he says. Instead, he started playing for one of the Storm's youth feeder clubs, set up to try to bring through some local talent in Victoria. Since then, his progress has been beyond his wildest dreams. He was a star of Melbourne's Under-20 team last season and did not get the trip to England to play Leeds tonight simply because he is a Pom.
He has every chance of being on the bench tonight and, in any event, is regarded as a certainty for a first-team breakthrough this season. Beyond that, he has an intriguing future on both sides of the world. "I always wanted to come back here and play against the big teams," he says. "I just didn't think it would happen as quickly as this." The Wigan coach, Michael McGuire, who knows him from his own Melbourne days, has already said that he is a player he would like to bring home; it is just a question of Widdop, now 21, deciding where home is going to be.
As long as it is at Melbourne, his primary role is likely to be as back-up to the first-choice full-back, Billy Slater – who with Greg Inglis and Cameron Smith forms that triumvirate of players who are as good as it gets in their respective roles. They are a big reason for Melbourne being favourites tonight, although there might be some mixing and matching – possibly involving Widdop – in other positions. As for Leeds, they have done a good job of lengthening their odds so far this season. Of their four Super League fixtures, they have lost two and been unimpressive in the other two.
On top of that, they have lost one of their most reliable performers, with Scott Donald, the man who scored the winning try the last time these two sides met, ruled out for three months with a shoulder injury. That will mean a chance for a player even younger than Widdop – the 19-year-old Kallum Watkins, who many at Headingley believe has the ability to go all the way.
The winners of our competition who have won tickets to see tonight's game are Jean Graham from Silsden, Dionne Norman of Corby and Paul Wright from Leighton Buzzard.