WIDNES VIKINGS V CATALANS DRAGONS
Widnes fan: Martin Birrell
You get the sense that this is almost a season-defining game in round one for both Widnes and Catalans. It will be interesting to see what lessons have been learnt following a white-knuckle ride during the final few weeks of 2017.
Injuries put paid to any chance that we had of making the top eight last year but the returning players towards the back end of the season proved that we weren’t as bad as many pundits had suggested.
The excitement for the Vikings supporters will be the blend of youth and experience taking the field this season. The club deserves great credit for the job it has done to assemble an outstanding category one academy from scratch. The one bright spot last season was the emergence of some really talented young players and I hope that we’ll see more of them this season. The likes of Ryan Ince, Danny Walker, Owen Farnworth and Olly Ashall all look set to challenge for a 1-13 jumper.
2018 begins with the team written off by many again as cellar dwellers but many Vikings fans, myself included, are more optimistic about our chances this season compared to this time last year. With the smart additions of Krisnan Inu, Sam Wilde, Wellington Albert and brother Stanton, I think the Vikings will shock a few teams this season. The devastating loss of Kato Ottio before the season started has galvanised the players and supporters together with the aim of honouring his memory on the field in 2018.
What of the Catalans? Well if the Vikings are to succeed on Sunday they’re going to have to deal with the threat posed by new boys Michael McIlorum and David Mead, two shrewd post season pickups. They’ll also have to overcome a bout of travel sickness which plagued them in 2017 and without a win at the Halton Stadium since 2012 I’m going for Widnes to open with a win.
Prediction: Widnes Vikings 24-16 Catalans Dragons.
Catalans fan: Chris Evans
The Dragons will be hoping to put last season’s flirt with relegation out of their minds as they start the new campaign at one of the least fancied teams in the shape of Widnes.
Most fans felt that the team of last season was lacking in far too many areas, so it will be interesting to see how the new players apply themselves in this opener.
It is important that the new signings hit the ground running and we need to put any fears of the bottom four out of our mind in the first few games. I for one am looking forward to seeing David Mead in a Catalan jersey as he may be the right fit to fill the hole left by Tony Gigot’s suspension. Michael McIlorum will add experience and steel to the side and his input may also bring the best out of a number of the less experienced French fringe players.
Of equal importance, this season will be the fitness of other key players such as Jodie Broughton and Greg Bird. Broughton has threatened to ignite a few times, but has suffered a number of serious injury setbacks. If he can stay fit, he will always pose a real threat out wide. Bird limped through the end of last season, but even then his experience helped. Having him fully mobile will be like another new signing. I
I fully expect the pack of Catalan to dominate the game on Sunday and this will create opportunities for the likes of Tierney and Broughton. The game will be an emotional affair as the first Super League fixture, for Widnes, since the tragic death of new signing Kato Ottio in January. This may galvanise the Vikings, but could equally see them trying too hard, forcing errors. Luke Walsh’s kicking game to be the deciding factor.
Score prediction: Widnes Vikings 10-16 Catalans Dragons