James Rule, the Widnes chief executive, has announced he will leave the club.
Rule, whose time at the club has come under intense scrutiny since taking the role in 2012, confirmed he will step down before the start of the season.
His relationship with the club’s support base had become fractious, with supporters laying a large proportion of blame at his feet following the club’s relegation.
But his departure will see the club go in a fresh direction, with chairman Steve O’Connor reiterating the club is also up for sale.
“It has been an honour to lead Widnes Vikings for six years,” he said.
“So this has naturally been a difficult decision to make. However, I believe it is now the right time for me to step aside, to pursue new opportunities and spend more time with my family, who have been a consistent support in what has been an all-consuming role.
“Working at Widnes Vikings has been a genuine privilege. The club has faced some real challenges in past seasons, and I am proud to have helped the club to navigate them with the support of our staff, partners and Members. It has been an honour to work with some incredible people, who are totally dedicated to this club and its ongoing success, and naturally I will miss them all.
“Before announcing my departure, it was important to me to help the club to deal with the immediate challenges of relegation and to leave strong foundations for the coming season. Having supported Phil Finney, our new Performance Director, in the retention and recruitment of the backbone of the club’s 2019 squad and performance team, and dealt with the immediate operational challenges that come with relegation, I now feel that it is an appropriate stage to plan my departure from the Vikings.”
On the club’s future, O’Connor said: “The absolute priority for the Board of Directors at Widnes Vikings has always been to ensure the long-term sustainability and viability of this club. As has been stated on many occasions, the Board have always been open to the possibility of receiving external investment or agreeing the purchase of the club by a third party, with the intention that every penny received is directly placed in strengthening and sustaining the club.
“Following James Rule’s announcement of his plans to move on from the club before the start of the 2019 season, it is important that we again publicly confirm this fact.
“The Board of Directors of Widnes Vikings remain open to exploring any viable offers for the club to be taken on by a new owner or ownership group. As such, we would like to confirm that all shareholders of the club are willing to gift their stake in Widnes Vikings to a viable party without charge. We will be actively pursuing any opportunities to do this in the coming weeks and months.
“This gifting of shares to a new owner would see them take full control of the club – its assets, liabilities and long-term strategic direction. We have always seen our role at Widnes Vikings as one of being custodians of the club, and should a new owner or ownership group be identified we will take pride in the fact that we have played a part in maintaining this club for future generations. We hope that a new investor can be found who has the ability to support the sustainability and continued progress of Widnes Vikings for the years ahead.”