Widnes’ current conundrum

The old cliche says that sport is a results based business, and more often than not, that is the case.

But determining success purely on results can be dangerous to the well-being of athletes and coaches alike, especially when results aren’t quite going the way you’d hope. It can make people paranoid, obsessive and often unwell.

Step forward the Widnes Vikings, who in many ways have bucked the trend since their reinstatement back into Super League ahead of the 2012 season.

While results have been an evident factor in the steady rise of Denis Betts’ squad, there has never been a desperation to achieve instant success. Instead, the Vikings have judged their level of success on progression, whether that be internal improvements or signs of development on the field.

Year on year that mentality has reaped benefits at the Select Security Stadium. There has been no overnight success story, no rapid rise to prominence, it has been the culmination of numerous tweaks throughout the club.

That brings us to the present. After an overwhelming start, the Vikings have seen their results slip, which has seen them drop to sixth in Super League and just two points above the bottom four.

Their downturn in form has been met with frustration by some supporters while others have remained upbeat.

Although fans will always hold lofty ambitions, the reality is that any place in the top eight will be seen as another positive step for the Vikings in 2016, and they look more than capable of doing that this year. In no way is that belittling of their ambitions for the year, don’t forget, this was a team widely tipped to finish bottom of Super League before the first carry had been taken. But the reality is that a one place improvement on last year’s ninth-place finish is a success.

For a section of the Widnes support, accepting an eighth-placed finish is now deemed unacceptable, somewhat understandable having seen their side defeat Wigan, dismantle Hull FC and crush the Leeds Rhinos. But as mentioned earlier, it would be wrong for Widnes’ season to now be defined on what the scoreboard says at the end of each match and a potential drop down the league should results not go their way. Already this year the team has shown remarkable progress in the results they have picked up and with an almost fully-fit squad again there is no reason why they can’t surge up the table again. The fact that Widnes are looking for a top four spot is signs of where the club has come in 12 months.

Beyond that, the retention of numerous key stars, notably Rhys Hanbury, Charly Runciman and Joe Mellor, is another indication that the club is moving in the right direction. That trio, along with the likes of Kevin Brown and Corey Thompson gives Widnes a squad capable of Super League success.

A drop into the Qualifiers would be a great blow for Widnes, perhaps the first in their Super League era, but with evident improvements on the field and strengthening done upstairs, the Vikings have already gone about improving as a club again.

Their most problematic predicament going forward will be their ability to appease the rising expectation levels on the terraces. There’s always been a great vibe among the supporters, but that can quickly turn if the team isn’t producing to the levels that have now been set. But those fans would do well to remember that success shouldn’t always be judged on results.

In the new Rugby League World, renowned journalist Jonathan Liew analyses the mindset of a professional athlete in an excellent feature. Buy in stores now or online at totalrl.com/rlw