Mystery reigns after Tim Sheens’ sudden Widnes Vikings exit

A few minutes before midday Tim Sheens informed the Widnes Vikings playing group he had left the club.

There was no explanation, a simple message, a swift exit from the group chat and that was that.

Within minutes the Vikings confirmed the news on their social media accounts, simply stating that he had decided to resign from his role.

To say the news was unexpected is an understatement. Widnes are due to return to training on November 2nd and Sheens has played a prominent role in preparing for the return of his squad.

There had been no suggestions, certainly on the surface, that anything was amiss.

Pre-lockdown, the Vikings had won five of their opening seven matches under Sheens.

During the extended off-season they had made a number of high-profile signings, adding experience to their pack through Matt Cook, Paul Clough and Lee Jewitt as well as signing Steve Tyrer, a player who has been a strong performer in the Championship for years.

Key players had been retained, with Matty Smith and Logan Tomkins both signing new deals and Danny Craven already under contract.

Some had departed, some by choice and some out of their hands, but nothing unlike most clubs contend with every year.

Even now, the reasons for Sheens’ departure aren’t clear, not to us or to many within the confines of the club.

But as the dust begins to settle, stories are beginning to emerge.

Several months ago, the club is understood to have informed Sheens that they would not be able to retain video analyst Jamie Elkaleh, a man who has acted as Sheens’ right-hand man since coming to the UK in 2015.

Elkaleh was Salford’s Performance Analyst when Sheens arrived at the club and followed him to Hull Kingston Rovers when he took on the coaching role with the Robins. He then linked up with Sheens again upon making the move to Widnes.

But it’s believed the club notified Sheens earlier this year that they would not be able to retain him next season and that is thought to have deeply hurt the 69-year-old.

Sheens didn’t have an assistant coach but Elkaleh instead was his most trusted ally and took on a lot of duties that helped the Australian cope without an official number two.

Early suggestions are that Sheens wants to return to Australia but that isn’t the case. The former Hull Kingston Rovers head coach will be remaining in the UK for now and it’s understood he will be pursuing work opportunities elsewhere in the game.

But perhaps the bigger question than what is next for Tim Sheens is who next for Widnes?

The Vikings have gone through four coaches in just over two years in what has been a turbulent period for the club on and off the pitch.

Relegation and administration, as well as a very close shave with liquidation, has seen the club under new ownership and revert to part-time status.

This year was due to be a year of consolidation before a bigger challenge in 2021. Sheens’ departure certainly doesn’t give the club the stability they craved.

Whoever comes in now will inherit a 20-man squad good enough to be competitive, but ultimately not their own. In a recruitment update posted in August, the club said they would sit and assess the transfer market before finalising their squad, an approach they took last year and reaped rewards as they snapped up Smith and Tomkins.

It remains to be seen whether that additional funding materialises, but the RFL recently informed clubs dual-registration will not be in place next season. The Chemics are not going to be in a position to bolster their squad with the help of partner club Warrington, which is likely to heighten their need to recruit.

The other challenge, of course, is finding a coach to lead them forward.

In recruiting Sheens they recruited a man with significant pedigree and respect. Finding anyone with that reputation is set to be near on impossible.

Instead, it’s likely they will have to think outside the box and provide an opportunity to someone unproven or unestablished.

In an ideal world, fans would like to hope they could entice high-profile candidates. Of course, the job will be an appealing one to many. But the fact Kieron Purtill resigned to take up a role as assistant at Hull FC would indicate the job isn’t quite as attractive as some would like to think.

The other challenge will be appeasing a squad assembled by Sheens, who had significant pulling power in some of their recent recruitment and retention dealings.

Whichever way you look at it, Sheens’ departure is far from ideal and presents a challenge for the club they wouldn’t have wanted or expected.