St George Illawarra Dragons halfback Michael Witt in action during the Charity Shield at WIN Stadium. Photo: Christopher ChanUltimate League: It’s not too late to sign up for our Fantasy NRL game
When Michael Witt first signed with the Dragons he doubted if he could still cut it in the NRL.
Now after impressing in the pre-season Witt has been handed first crack at St George Illawarra’s No.7 jersey. As he prepares for his first NRL match since 2008 against Wests Tigers on Sunday, Witt said he thought his NRL career was over when he switched codes after he was cut by the Warriors.
“I was prepared not to start there,” Witt said “My ambition has been to get the first crack and that’s what I came here to do. I still believe I’m up to that level and I can do it. I probably thought my NRL career was over. I’m keen and excited to be back here.”
Witt, who at 30 is the oldest player in a youthful Dragons squad, made his NRL debut in 2003 at the Eels. Stints at Manly and the Warriors followed before a brief switch of codes playing for Otago.
A four-year sojourn in the English Super League was next – split between Celtic Crusaders and London Broncos before a surprise phone call from the Dragons in November.
“I had a year left with the Broncos but I was looking to come home,” Witt said. “I wouldn’t have come back if I didn’t think I was up to it. I know the Dragons would’ve have signed me if I wasn’t up to it. I still have it in me and I’ve been given first opportunity in the seven jersey. I only wanted a one-year contract to test myself and put the onus on myself and earn a new contract.”
Witt impressed in the Dragons’ only real hit-out – a heavy Charity Shield loss to South Sydney. He edged out Canberra recruit Sam Williams for the starting gig while fringe Dragons half Josh Drinkwater has joined Witt’s former club London.
Witt is aiming to ease the organising pressure of Gareth Widdop who is settled at five-eighth. He has trained sparingly at hooker in the off-season, with his main focus playing in the halves.
“[Coach Steve Price] didn’t say much to be honest,” Witt said when told of his selection. “He just congratulated me on my pre-season and how hard I’ve worked and told me that I deserved my spot. He doesn’t say much Pricey but when he speaks everyone listens. As a half you need to lead the team around the park and hopefully I can take the pressure off Gareth. That’s part of the reason I’m here.”
Witt joins Daniel Holdsworth and Michael Dobson as halves who have returned from to the NRL from England this season and will start in round one. He will oppose Tigers young gun Luke Brooks – 11 years his junior – on Sunday after the teenager starred in his only NRL appearance against the Dragons last year.
“We haven’t looked at that game,” Witt said. “I don’t know much about him but what I do know is that he is a good young player. This time in the season we just have to worry about ourselves.”