Rugby League Hall of Fame member Garry Schofield is a regular columnist in League Express. To read ‘Pulling No Punches’ every week, get your copy of League Express in stores every week, or get an online subscription at totalrl.com/le
This time last year I was copping all sorts of good-natured banter from Widnes fans, after having tipped them to come bottom of Super League.
This is what I wrote:
“They’ve been a pretty stable club in the time they’ve been in Super League but they just don’t seem to have kicked on and recruited with any ambition. As a result, they’ve missed the chance to become a regular top-eight club, or better. 2015 was disappointing for them and unfortunately, I think their slide will continue. They once aimed for consolidation, but it seems to have turned into stagnation.”
Rather than languish in last place, they stormed straight to the top early on with some incredible performances, in particular against Hull and Wigan.
Even though they couldn’t maintain their form, they did at least come in the top eight, which is an achievement of sorts for a club like the Vikings.
But even though I got the prediction badly wrong, everything that I wrote about them was true and the club shows no signs of addressing its problems.
In fact, if I can be so bold to point this out, I think a section of their fans inadvertently let the board off the hook by focusing on my inaccurate prediction rather than addressing the club’s long-term ambitions.
The Widnes that I came up against in my career were giants of the game. They were too ambitious for their own good in the end, but it must have been such an exciting time to support the club.
I wince at the memory of some of my experiences against them, not least the towelling they gave Leeds in the 1993 Challenge Cup semi-final.
If I supported them, I’m not sure I’d be excited about anything at the moment. Last year’s great start was an absolute one-off since they came back into the top-flight.
They seem to be happy just being in Super League. They look a million miles away from getting anywhere near a big final.
In the last decade, Catalans, Huddersfield, Castleford and Hull Kingston Rovers have all reached Wembley and made the top four, so it’s not impossible for the smaller clubs to over-achieve.
And now Castleford and Salford are leading the way in Super League, but unlike the Vikings last year they look like sides who are genuine top-four contenders.
The reality is that Widnes are a prime example of everything that was wrong with licensing.
They coasted through their final season in the Championship, showing no desire to win it, knowing that because they were ticking some off-field boxes, they would probably be rewarded.
And since they’ve been in Super League, they’ve shown no ambition to actually do anything.
It’s disappointing that some of their fans are blaming Denis Betts. He is a very good coach who needs to be backed by a board prepared to spend the full salary cap.
He was dealt a rotten hand at the start of the season with the departure of their talisman Kevin Brown.
The people responsible need to wake up, because the writing is on the wall for the Vikings. Right now, they seem certain to be in the Million Pound Game.
If Hull KR maintain their current form, then I think we may well be seeing the back of Widnes as a Super League club, and that would be a crying shame.