Widdop’s plans to play in the UK have been no secret. (Brett Costello)
Widdop’s plans to play in the UK have been no secret. (Brett Costello)

Dragons confirm Gareth Widdop’s shock UK return

St George Illawarra skipper Gareth Widdop will quit the Dragons after agreeing to a move to return to England.

The English international will walk away from the final two years of his contract to join Warrington Wolves in 2020.

St George Illawarra announced the move on Wednesday, confirming Widdop would take a pay cut to return to England.

Dragons officials were stunned when Widdop requested an early move from his contract, which is worth about $1.8 million. The two parties have been in contact since before Christmas.

While Widdop, who has played 24 Tests for England, has reaffirmed his commitment to the club for this year, he made it clear he wanted out having harbouring a long-term desire to play in the English Super League while still at the height of his career.

The Daily Telegraph has learnt St George Illawarra will retain first rights on Widdop's services should the 29-year-old opt to return to Australia.

 

The Dragons at least have time to prepare. (AAP Image/Daniel Munoz)
The Dragons at least have time to prepare. (AAP Image/Daniel Munoz)

"I've made a big decision in my career having decided to move back to England next year," Widdop said.

"It certainly hasn't been the easiest decision but sometimes in life we have aspirations and playing in the Super League has been one of mine for a while now.

"The Dragons have played a big part in my career. I've been here a long time now and to get to where we have with the roster we've got, to leave it all behind especially being the captain will be difficult.

"I still have the 2019 season to come. The reason we play this game is to win premierships. We have the squad to win it this year and I'll be doing everything possible to achieve that."

Wigan, Leeds, Huddersfield and St Helens all tried to sign Widdop but it was former coach Steve Price who secured Widdop's signature for a second time. Price signed Widdop from Melbourne to the Dragons in 2014 but the partnership was short-lived after Price was axed midway through Widdop's first season. Price since took over from Warrington and led them to a grand final in his first season last year.

Widdop will form a halves combination with Blake Austin after the former Raider joined Warrington this year.

Widdop emigrated to Australia from Halifax as a teen.

Corey Norman will only have a year with his new partner. (Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
Corey Norman will only have a year with his new partner. (Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

The Dragons have already planned for life post-Widdop having signed Corey Norman. Norman's arrival is expected to shift Widdop to play fullback for the first time on a regular basis in the NRL.

Widdop's departure will also keep the door ajar for local product Matt Dufty to remain at the club. Despite being just one of five players to feature in all Dragons 26 games last year, the arrival of Norman and Widdop's switch to fullback is set to see the off-contract Dufty have a reduced role this year.

Widdop has played 185 NRL games since making his debut for Melbourne in 2010.

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