Rating each side’s Super League experience: Widnes Vikings

Another side on the edge of the Super League for a number of years was Widnes Vikings.

They narrowly missed the cut for the first Super League season, meaning the 1989 World Champions would not be involved.

They finished tenth in that final season before the reorganisation, just 12 months after finishing fourth.

Like some other clubs, Widnes resisted a merger. It was proposed that they would merge with Cheshire rivals Warrington Wolves, which was rejected.

Exceeding Expectations

Widnes won promotion to the Super League ahead of the 2002 season, under the guidance of Neil Kelly.  The Vikings got there after beating Oldham in the Championship playoff final.

They finished just short of the playoffs, one point behind Castleford Tigers in the final playoff position.

A year later, they were in playoff contention again, but four straight defeats just before the end of the season meant they finished ninth.

They also reached the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup, but were beaten 38-28 by Bradford Bulls at Odsal.

Initial Struggles

2004 was a bit of a struggle, as they slipped to 11th in the table. Had Castleford had won against Wakefield on the final day, then it could have been a nervous wait for the Vikings.

However, they wouldn’t be so lucky in 2005.  They had a new Head Coach in former Wigan coach Frank Endacott, but he couldn’t improve fortunes.

With two teams going down in order to make way for Catalans Dragons to enter the competition, Widnes finished seven points behind Wakefield Trinity in the final relegation place.

Widnes officially bowed out of the Super League after a 68-10 defeat against London Broncos.

The Vikings then had one of their darkest moments, after going into voluntary administration. Stephen Vaughan left the club, leaving them in a perilous position financially. They were saved by local businessman Steve O’Connor.

Entry back to Super League

Denis Betts helped Widnes back to the Super League, and earned two top eight finishes. Credit: News Images

After seven years out, Widnes were awarded a licence to compete in the Super League ahead of the 2012 season.

This time, it was Denis Betts that led them into the top tier, however they finished bottom as they look to readjust to the Super League.

2013 saw progress being made, as they defeated Saints, Warrington and Bradford away from home. They went on to finish 10th, just four points off the playoffs.

Then a year later, they made the playoffs after a solid season. They only lost four times at the Halton Stadium all season.

Their first playoff match was against bitter rivals Warrington. Two tries from Paddy Flynn and another from Rhys Hanbury had Widnes 19-6 up at the break, but ended up losing 22-19.

Widnes also made the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup, but were beaten 28-6 by Castleford.

The Super League then moved towards the Super 8s, which saw the league split after each side had played each other home and away. Then, the top eight would compete for the title, and the bottom four would link with the top four in the Championship to battle it out for a place in the Super League.

In 2015, Widnes finished ninth, just one point behind Catalans. Therefore, they went into the Middle 8s. There was no issues, as they finished second.

They then finished seventh a year later, as they finished top of a three-way tie between themselves, Salford Red Devils and Wakefield.

A 32-4 win against Catalans sealed their place in the Super 8s. Tries from Patrick Ah Van, Aaron Heremaia, Stefan Marsh, Joe Mellor and Corey Thompson sealed victory.

Widnes were actually top going into Good Friday, but defeat against Warrington sparked a run of eight straight defeats to leave them battling for the Super 8s spot.

They finished seventh after only winning two of their seven Super 8s matches.

A year later, fortunes turned dramatically for Widnes, as they finished bottom of the Super League after the split. This came after the sale of influential halfback Kevin Brown to Warrington.

They went into the Middle 8s, and only confirmed their safety with a 12-10 win in the south of France against Catalans.

Tries from Marsh and Thompson sealed a precious win for Widnes and buy them another season in the Super League.

Second Relegation

The sale of Kevin Brown sparked a downturn in form for Widnes. Credit: News Images

The 2018 season was difficult for the Vikings, as they only won three games all season. Betts was sacked following their 19-6 defeat against Wakefield. Former Bradford coach Francis Cummings took charge until the end of the season.

Widnes’ relegation was confirmed after only winning one game in their Middle 8s campaign.

Since then, Widnes went through a turbulent period, when it looked like they could go out of business. The club was saved after fans and players helped with fundraising, and new owners were found.

Now, they have gone part-time as they look to rebuild their squad.

The future

Tim Sheens will look to guide Widnes back to Super League. Credit Craig Milner/News Images

Widnes have always looked to the next generation of talent, and this is the model they are adapting to the Championship.

This is combined with experience from the likes of Matty Smith and Harrison Hansen.

Once those players come of age, we may see Widnes looking to perform at the top level once again.

Rating

5/10- a club that exceeded expectations on a number of occasions, the club has struggled in recent years after poor management and recruitment. They seem to be on a good path now though.

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