GARETH WIDDOP –
There is just something incredibly special about playing for your country.
If you ask any rugby league player involved in this year’s World Cup campaign, I’m sure they‘ll tell you the same thing.
As for England, our culture and ethos couldn’t be stronger. There are no individuals in camp; only 24 lads all committed to each other, striving for the same team goal; to win the Rugby League World Cup.
That’s the sole reason we’re playing.
Anything is possible, so why not us.
Inside the camp, everything is going great. There is so much banter and we are all enjoying being around each other’s company.
Personally, because I do spend so much time away from England playing for St. George in the NRL, I really do appreciate the opportunity to reconnect with my heritage when national test duties roll around.
My wife Carley, and kids Brayden, Harper Rose and Willow, all call Australia home – and while I do as well having spent over a decade here, it’s like the saying goes – “there is no place like home”.
And England will always hold a special place in my heart.
So these few weeks have been amazing for me.
But it’s not just a passion for playing my country that is driving me. I’m out to help England win it all.
We feel as though our best football is capable of matching it with any team in the world.
You only need look at our opening game against the Aussies to see that.
For most of the game, the contest was in the balance, and we felt at stages we played really good football.
Forced turnovers and an inability to secure quality field position hurt us early, but in the second-half we threw the ball around and showed we weren’t afraid to take the game on.
While we couldn’t get over the line, we certainly took a lot of confidence from that game.
Obviously the second round against Lebanon was a little bit scrappy, but for us it’s all about building and making sure we’re getting better by the week, and so far I’m confident we’re doing that.
I think a lot of that does come down to having one of the world’s best coach in Wayne Bennett.
Since taking over the coaching reins for England, the team has really thrived under his direction.
Two years ago I was lucky enough to play for Wayne’s World team in the annual All Stars fixture, and while we didn’t do a great deal of training, it was just awesome to be in his presence.
He has enormous stature in our game, and has been great for our playing group. He demands the best from each of us.
Personally, I think what makes such a great coach is that gives you a lot of confidence and belief; Wayne lets you play your natural game and backs you in to perform on the big stage.
He knows how to man manage each player, to ensure everyone is in the best possible frame of mind to play.
Sunday presents another terrific opportunity for our boys to test themselves against a quality opposition in France, still hungry for their first win, so we know we’ll have to be on our game if we are to walk away with the win.
I’m confident we can take another strong step forward.