Last week, Widnes Vikings co-captain Chris Houston announced his retirement from the sport at the age of 33 after stints at the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Newcastle Knights as well as the Vikings.
Houston has been a crucial player for the black and whites since he arrived from Australia in 2016, being one of the most consistent performers in the side despite the poor form that Widnes have endured over the past two years.
The job for Denis Betts and the Widnes board is to find a player capable of stepping into Houston’s boots and doing the tireless job he does week in week out for the Vikings.
He is one of the few wholeheartedly classy operators that Widnes have in their ranks and failure to capture someone with similar ability will set Widnes back further on the pitch.
With that said, here our five options that could replace Houston at Widnes.
Louis Anderson seems to have been around rugby league circles for years now, but he is still only 32, having spent 10 seasons in the British game with Warrington and Catalans.
The former Kiwi international is one of the most experienced players in Super League and would be a perfect fit for Widnes who lack some firepower on the edges.
Anderson would replace the lost experience from Houston having played in both continents, and giving Widnes a couple of seasons of service to help bring the exciting youth talent through into the first team could be an opportunity he may not be able to refuse.
Off-contact at the end of the season, the Vikings could do worse than a season or two of Louis Anderson in the second row.
In the off season, there were murmurs amongst Widnes fans that Ryan Hoffman was to join the Vikings but they were to be nothing more than rumours and the former Wigan man rejoined Melbourne Storm for a third stint at the club.
At 34, Hoffman is coming to the end of his career, but if Widnes could tempt the second rower back over to England for a season, it would be a massive coup for the club.
One season of Hoffman for the Vikings would offer so much; despite not being as youthful as other options in the market, he still has a knack for scoring a try and will run and tackle hard for the cause.
It’s unlikely Hoffman would return to England having only spent a season here previously but he is the kind of experienced head the Vikings should be looking at.
Sticking with players at the older end of the spectrum, Jon Wilkin, aged 34 too, has been rumoured to sign for Widnes in what seems like every off season since their return to Super League in 2012.
Like Anderson and Hoffman, Wilkin is off contract at the end of 2018 and recent admitted he’s hopeful of signing a new deal with St Helens.
That may count Widnes out of the equation because Wilkin would be foolish to leave the best club in the league for one of the stragglers, if an offer from Saints was on the table.
But, if there isn’t, a move to Widnes allows Wilkin to extend his playing days by a season or two more and would offer the Vikings Grand Final winning experience and a voice on the pitch in the referees ear that Widnes severely lack.
It’s another unlikely move but stranger things have happened in Rugby League.
If Widnes would like to show some ambition to start to build a capable and competitive side on the field and to get some fans back on board, Joe Greenwood would be that kind of player.
At 25, Greenwood has experience of playing both the British and Australian game and is coming into the prime of his career; perfect to build a side around.
He is out of favour at the Gold Coast Titans and is yet to feature in a first game this season under new coach Garth Brennan, despite playing 22 games in his debut season under Neil Henry.
Greenwood himself has come out and insisted he’s at Gold Coast for the long haul, but the longer he is out of first grade, the more likely he is to return to England with a lot of interest. Widnes should ensure he joins as he’s the kind of statement signing they desperately need.
Chris Dean/Sam Wilde/Tom Olbison
However, most Widnes fans know a signing in the calibre of Houston’s is unlikely in the off-season.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the club chose to give one of Chris Dean, Sam Wilde or Tom Olbison the #11 shirt in place of Houston, with Betts going down the ‘promotion from within’ route to replace some of the clubs better players in recent years.
Stefan Marsh took Corey Thompson’s #2 last off season and the year before saw Tom Gilmore being handed a starting jersey after the sale of Kevin Brown to Warrington.
It’s a cost cutting measure which is doing the Vikings’ no favours and if that trend was to continue with the lack of a big-name alternative to Houston, it may well increase the ever growing murmurs of discontent from the Select Security Stadium faithful.
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