With so many good young players coming through the Vikings system, who should you be keeping your eye on? Josh Roberts explores….
The Widnes Vikings currently sit bottom of the table with six points, having sacked former head coach Denis Betts and are only just recovering from an injury crisis, it’s fair to say the Vikings have done it tough in 2018.
There, however, has been a shining light throughout the last couple of years for the Cheshire side and that is the club’s excellent academy, which has continued to produce talented youngsters for the first team under the watchful eye of Phil Finney, head of Youth Performance at the club.
Players like Alex Gerrard, Matt Whitley, Danny Craven and the Chapelhow twins have established themselves in the Widnes side and are amongst the Vikings’ most consistent performer’s week-in, week-out.
There is an abundance of young talent within the ranks so here are five youngsters in the Widnes set-up who you should keep an extra close eye on.
5. Sam Walters
The only player on this list who has yet to make his first team debut, Sam Walters has been a revelation for the Under 19’s side this year and making the step up to Super League will surely happen sooner rather than later.
The 17-year-old second rower has been a main figure in Grant Gore’s side this season and has played a pivitol part in the recent form which has seen the under 19’s win consecutive games.
With a high work rate in both attack and defence, Walters also has the ability to get over the whitewash as well as put others through a gap with his ball-handling skills. He has been a stand-out performer this season and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the youngster given a chance in the first team in the next 12 months.
4. Owen Buckley
Buckley has only just recently broke into the Vikings first-team but has settled well and has shown the composure of a player who has been playing at Super League level for years.
Making a try scoring debut against Hull FC and putting in a more than creditable performance against St Helens, the youngster has certainly had a baptism of fire in his first two senior outings.
The winger had been plying his trade in the under 19’s, scoring for fun out on the fringes before Francis Cummins gave him his debut.
Such the impact he has made and his ability to defuse the high ball as well as score from an attacking high kick, don’t be surprised to see Buckley keep his place as the Vikings go into the Middle 8’s.
3. Olly Ashall-Bott
Despite Ashall-Bott’s undoubted talent, the route to Widnes’ first team has been a rough one for the young full back who unfortunately suffered consecutive season-ending injuries in both 2016 and 2017.
It was only the second game of this season when the youngster finally made his debut in the unfamiliar position of winger.
Showing up well against Warrington and Castleford, he didn’t appear again until Francis Cummins gave him a shot at full back away to Wakefield.
Compared to a young Sam Tomkins thanks to his agility and evasive running style, he is seen as a long-term prospect for the Vikings and Ashall-Bott should be seeing more first team action for Widnes in the future.
2. Owen Farnworth
Widnes have a good track record of bringing prop forwards through from their academy and Farnworth is the next in line to follow in the footsteps of Alex Gerrard and both Jay & Ted Chapelhow.
He might have only played a handful of games in black-and-white at first team level but he has held his own when faced with bigger forwards, made even more impressive considering he still qualifies to play for the under 19’s.
Legend of the game Barrie McDermott has been full of praise for the young prop when he’s appeared on Sky Sports, and it’s easy to see why.
He runs hard and tackles harder and that’s what you want your prop forwards to do, regardless of age or experience.
Farnworth has a bright future in the game and Widnes have one of the best young props around.
1. Danny Walker
Obviously, there is only one player who can top this list and it is hooker Danny Walker, who has been a revelation for the Vikings since he made his competitive debut last year.
The 19-year-old is one of the brightest talents in British rugby league and for good reason.
He has the ability to create something from nothing, he is exciting to watch and he gets fans off their seats.
He is Widnes’ best attacking option and he lifts the team to his speed of play when he is introduced from the bench.
Handed a club record four-year deal last season, Walker is at the Vikings for the foreseeable future and he will only get better which is a scary thought for opposition defenders.
Mentions for other youngsters such as loose forward Brad Walker, winger Ryan Ince, hooker Jordan Johnstone, centre Keenan Brand, half back Joe Lyons, loose forward/second row/centre Liam Walsh and full back/winger Sam Freeman.
All of these players have been tearing it up either in the Under 19s or on dual-registration at the North Wales Crusaders. With all those named capable of tearing it up for the Vikings in the future,