Widnes Vikings host Huddersfield Giants in the opening round of the 2017 Super League campaign, and both sides will be desperate to get off to a winning start in what could be a tough season for these clubs.
Last Time Out
Widnes Vikings’ pre-season begun before the New Year as they took on Warrington Wolves in the annual ‘festive derby’, going down 28-18 at home to their fierce rivals. They then hosted Halifax in terrible conditions and were on the right side of a 30-0 score line against their Championship opponents. Pre-season was rounded off with a 16-0 loss away to St Helens in the Karalius Cup, and the biggest talking point from those three games will be the injury to captain Joe Mellor, and how costly that could be. The influential number six will be sorely missed as he was a stand-out performer in 2016.
Huddersfield Giants picked up three victories in pre-season, as their youngsters out fought Workington Town 16-14 at the John Smith’s Stadium. They then welcomed Bradford Bulls in Luke Robinson’s testimonial, which eventually went ahead despite their opponent’s off-field dramas, and the hosts were 28-10 winners. Their final warm-up was another testimonial, this time Ben Harrison’s, as they defeated the Wolves 12-0. It is Rick Stone’s first off-season with the club after taking over from Paul Anderson at the back-end of last season, and he will be looking for huge improvements if they are to avoid a bottom four finish again.
The halfback pairings of either side offer a stark contrast, and it could be a key area in deciding the outcome of this game. Following the departure of Kevin Brown to neighbours Warrington and the injury to Mellor, the Vikings are set to line-up with Danny Craven and Tom Gilmore at six and seven. It is an unlikely starting pair considering the club offered Craven to Championship clubs before their injury woes, and he will be out to prove a point that he still has something to offer Widnes this season.
For the Giants they have a more established pairing of Danny Brough and Ryan Brierley, who will be better for the run of games they had together last season after Brierley had architected a move from Leigh Centurions. If Huddersfield are to make the top eight a lot of expectation will be riding on their halfbacks’ shoulders, so they will be hoping they can rise to the challenge this year. Despite the advantage of experience being on the visitor’s side, Craven and Gilmore’s desperation to prove they are ready for top flight rugby makes them just as dangerous.
Home form will be key for Widnes this season, and as some of the top sides found out in 2016 the Select Security Stadium is a tough place to get a result. The Giants will need to target games like this one though if they are to avoid a bottom four finish. Widnes Vikings by 10.
Widnes Vikings: Tom Armstrong, Chris Bridge, Greg Burke, Hep Cahill, Jay Chapelhow, Ted Chapelhow, Danny Craven, Gil Dudson, Tom Gilmore, Rhys Hanbury, Aaron Heremaia, Chris Houston, MacGraff Leuluai, Stefan Marsh, Tom Olbison, Charly Runciman, Corey Thompson, Lloyd White, Matt Whitley
Huddersfield Giants: Jermaine McGillvary, Leroy Cudjoe, Lee Gaskell, Aaron Murphy, Danny Brough, Ryan Brierley, Ryan Hinchcliffe, Shannon Wakeman, Tom Symonds, Dale Ferguson, Michael Lawrence, Kruise Leeming, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Oliver Roberts, Ukuma Ta’ai, Paul Clough, Daniel Smith, Darnell McIntosh, Alex Mellor