As the Super League season kick-off draws closer, we look at how Widnes Vikings will go in 2018.
Denis Betts’ side battled the Qualifiers in 2017, but retained their spot in the top flight with a 12-10 victory over Catalans Dragons in Perpignan. The Vikings will look to finish inside the top eight this time round, but could be tested in their efforts to do so.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Krisnan Inu (Catalans Dragons), Sam Wilde (Warrington Wolves), Wellington Albert (PNG Hunters), Stanton Albert (PNG Hunters)
*Widnes were set to welcome fellow Papa New Guinea international Kato Ottio to the club, but the winger/prop sadly passed away earlier this month.
Tom Amstrong (Toronto Wolfpack), Chris Bridge (retiring), Jack Buchanan (released), Manase Manuokafoa (Albi), Corey Thompson (Wests Tigers)
Catalans (H), Castleford Tigers (A), Warrington (H), Leeds (H), Wigan (A)
WHAT TO EXPECT
Widnes will want to avoid finishing in The Qualifiers this season, let alone having to secure their top-flight future in a crunch showdown again. Betts has a mixture of fresh and departing talent, and only time will tell whether the shakeup provides a platform for a stronger 2018.
Despite Betts making changes to his senior squad, what is certain to go untouched is the development of academy players within the club. Widnes relied on the plethora of talent coming through the ranks last season, and although the club were without their senior players, the first-team experience gave Widnes’ academy a real shot at competing in Super League.
That experience served them well, and will undoubtedly lead to further chances in 2018.
One such academy product is 18-year-old Danny Walker, who showed his maturity at such a young age in Widnes’ Challenge Cup defeat to Warrington at the Halliwell Jones Stadium. From then on, he performed consistently when called upon and was deserving of an England Academy call-up at the end of the season.
After making his breakthrough in 2017, Walker, who is certain to be handed a first-team role this term, could be a standout player in Betts’ squad.
As for those brought into the club, centre Krisnan Inu will bolster Widnes’ back line, which suffered from injury regularly last season, while props Wellington and Stanton Albert are solid replacements for the departing pair Jack Buchanan and Manase Manuokafoa.
Widnes face a tough opening run, facing losing Grand Finalists Castleford Tigers, Super League winners Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors inside their first five games. But the Vikings, who play three of their opening five at the Select Security Stadium, will look to make use of their home ground early on.
Betts’ side will have faced rivals Warrington Wolves for the second time in 2018 by the end of March, and go into April facing a tough run of fixtures (St Helens, Hull Kingston Rovers, Hull FC and Wigan Warriors). The Vikings play Hull FC for the second time at the end of June, before closing the regular season with reverse ties against the Saints, Leeds and Castleford.
Top Tryscorer – Patrick Ah Van
Top Pointscorer – Rhys Hanbury
Club Player of the Year – Wellington Albert
WHERE WILL WIDNES VIKINGS FINISH?