On Thursday afternoon, it was announced that Denis Betts will not return as the head coach of the Widnes Vikings.
Widnes confirmed the news in a statement to the media, which stated that the club has ended the contract of the coach, effective immediately. The club went on to announce that Francis Cummins will be assuming the role of head coach on an interim basis, and concluded the statement by thanking Betts for his contributions for the past eight seasons.
The Vikings were relegated to playing in the Qualifiers last season after finishing dead last in the Super League, and the team’s struggles continued into this season. They’re currently sitting at the bottom of standings with only three wins this year; after losing 19-6 to Wakefield last week, they’ve lost their previous eight games. The team was actually booed off the pitch during said loss to Wakefield, which only added insult to injury.
At 48 years old, Betts is a former Wigan and forward with Great Britain, and had presided over his now-former team since November of 2010. However, the team’s unacceptable start to this year, and their status as the favorite for a second-straight wooden spoon, ultimately lead to his undoing. Betts had actually previously lost his job as England’s assistant coach this year as well.
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Betts came to Widnes after a brief stint with Gloucester, guiding the club to a promotion from the National League in just two seasons. Under Betts, the Vikings used the franchise system setup to establish itself in the Super League, and under the leadership of Betts, finished in a somewhat respectable 7th place in 2016. But faced with the obstacle of a razor-thin budget, Betts’ squad has consistently been outmanned and scrapping for its life ever since.
After getting off to a red-hot start in 2016, Widnes had won only 12 o their last 54 regular season Super League contest. They did manage to get through the Qualifiers last year, which included a signature victory at Catalans, which marked the first time they had ever achieved victory in Perpignan.
In fairness to Betts, he did his best with the cards — and the lack of funds — he was dealt. In other words, he spent frugally but meticulously, though that often resulted in losing key players. For instance, the team lost its captain in Kevin Brown at the end of the 2016 season; many people believe Brown was not only the captain, but the heart and soul of the team. Brown’s replacement, Rangi Chase, turned out to be a total disaster, as he was suspended for drug-related issues.
On top of that, the Vikings had a bunch of tough-minded players who did whatever they could for Betts, but the coach simply couldn’t overcome the lack of quality talent and depth he had, because of the financial limitations he faced.
Cummins, a former assistant to Betts most recently, will have his hands cut out for him. He has five straight chances, on the road, to try and change the course of this team. With the team’s ticket sales plummeting, he better change the course of things quickly.