The start of November, 2007 signalled a new era in player development.

The NRL had announced that the inaugural Under-20s competition would begin the following year which meant clubs were drafting kids in from everywhere to be a part of their revamped youth systems.

A total of 23 players travelled to Melbourne from interstate and even overseas for a shot at wearing the purple jersey.

An additional four players had already based themselves in Melbourne.

But when the time came for the very first Melbourne Storm Under-20s training session, guess which group was late?

"I'll never forget the squad assembling out on Princess Park on our first day and through the gates come these four guys," Storm senior assistant Adam O'Brien said.

"They were led by Gareth Widdop, he had all this product in his hair and a leather jacket on. It looked like a boy band was entering the field."

Match: Storm v Panthers

Full Time
Storm

Home Team

Storm

Scored 16 points
Panthers

Away Team

Panthers

Scored 22 points

Venue: AAMI Park

Match broadcasters:

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  • Fox League
  • LIVE PASS

O'Brien was just starting his own coaching journey at the time as an Under-20s assistant coach under now Parramatta head coach Brad Arthur.

That first encounter with Widdop sticks out in his memory like it was yesterday.

"They blended into the session and probably thought they'd got away with it until the first team meeting at the end of that day," O'Brien said.

"Brad got up and said, 'Mr. Fonzarelli and your three sidekicks, get out the front.' He put the four of them on notice and I don't think we would have had too many blokes late for the rest of the year.

"They say you can't undo a first impression, Gareth certainly did."

Over the next seven years, Widdop transformed himself from boy band wannabe to Premiership winning playmaker.

He would play a total of 70 games for Storm between 2010-2013 before going on to captain St.George Illawarra.

"Gareth ended up captaining our Under-20s and you look at what he has become today, it was just one little blemish that he had and I don't think he had another one after that," O'Brien said.

"Like the rest of our leaders, they learn their way at the Storm. It is something you put development into. He became a good leader and he is a good leader for St.George today.

"I don't think Gareth was ever late to anything as long as I coached him after that."