Friday, 5 July 2019

Sunday's Coming: Widnes

It's not been the best of weeks at Widnes.

Widnes were once a global Rugby League powerhouse. In the 10 years between 1975 and 1984, The Chemics played in seven Challenge Cup finals and were christened 'The Cup Kings' by an adoring media. In the 1978–79 season they produced a rare quadruple - the BBC2 floodlit trophy, Lancashire Cup, Premiership and Challenge Cup. They also beat the Ashes-winning Kangaroo tourists for good measure.

Then in 1989 they overcame the might of the Australian competition again, beating Canberra Raiders 30-18 at Old Trafford to become the first legitimate world club champions. Their starting thirteen scares us even now: Alan Tait, Andy Currier, Jonathan Davies, Darren Wright, Martin Offiah, Tony Myler, David Hulme, Joe Grima, Phil McKenzie, Derek Pyke, Kurt Sorensen, Paul Hulme and Richie Eyres.

Fast forward 30 years and the world is a very different place.

Widnes currently sit 11th in the Championship table, facing the very real possibility of a trip to West Wales Raiders next season.

Having clawed their way back into the black on the league table with a convincing win at Spotland earlier in the season, subsequent defeats to Batley, Dewsbury, York and Leigh put a huge dent in any possible playoff ambitions. Then came last week's eye-popping 62-nil, eleven-try flogging at Odsal. Described in the Runcorn & Widnes World as "A performance of staggering ineptitude..." - this on-field bombshell landed just 48 hours after a statement announcing that the club was switching to a part time model.

Having been through similar turmoil with Leigh last year, Widnes coach Kieron Purtill must wonder if he's somehow walked under a ladder with a broken mirror on Friday the 13th and accidentally kicked a black cat.

The statement says:

"As a Board, each and every one of us who has the privilege of helping to lead this great club recognises the significance of our responsibility. We want to build, with you, a new era for the club. Fundamental to that is our values of transparency, integrity and honesty."

A concept I think all right-minded Rugby League supporters can get behind.

It goes on: "We are still feeling the effects of relegation and administration. From those perilous moments when the club’s future looked to be in jeopardy through to right now, the support of our fan base has been incredible."

"However, we have also been deprived of revenue streams that have been fundamental to the running of the club in the past, and had to honour many of the liabilities of the previous incarnation of Widnes Vikings. We’re making progress against these challenges, but there is much still to do - and naturally, this sets the course for our season ahead and ones to follow. "

"... we have spoken to our players and staff to inform them that next season, Widnes Vikings will operate a part-time playing team.... this reflects those values of transparency and respect, which are so important to us."

"The reality is that with our projected income for next season, Widnes Vikings cannot sustain a full-time first team environment."

The numbers involved are eye-watering for a club like Rochdale Hornets: playing in Super League in 2018, Widnes received £1.9 million in central funding from Super League. Following their relegation to the Championship, they were due to receive £800,000 as central funding.

But after the previous administration hit the buffers in February (notably, with less than £1,000 in the bank - having had millions of pounds through its hands in their seven seasons in Super League ), £250,000 of the parachute payment was withheld by Super League, along with 50% of the club’s Academy funding, believed to total £70,000.

Based on their current league position (exacerbated by the 12-point deduction), the statement says that the "... central funding figure we are likely to receive is approximately £250,000. As a result, we as a Board need to ensure that the club is running within its means."

Read the full statement here

Counter to Widnes' flaky away form, their home form looks pretty solid - five wins in succession at the Halton stadium - and they see a quick-start and gaining early momentum as the keys to gaining the advantage on Sunday.

Having lost wingers Ryan Ince, Owen Buckley and Jayden Hatton to injury, it's heavily rumoured that Patrick Ah Van is on his way back to the Halton Stadium having been playing in France.

Hornets come into Sunday's game having seen yet more changes to the squad. This week has seen Ellis Gillam and Ben Morris became the 14th and 15th players to depart the club as part of Matt Calland's remodelling.

They've been replaced by Wigan academy second-row Ben Kilner and York three-quarter Kevin Brown (both on loan). They join Pierre Bourrel, who made an impressive debut against Swinton last week, scoring two tries on debut.

The challenge here remains galvanising the multitude of new bodies into a cohesive unit. Ordinarily a trip to Widnes would be the most challenging of places to try new combinations - but this has been no ordinary week.

All the pressure is on Widnes to prove that the last 7 days hasn't completely ripped the rug out from under their season. Hornets on the other hand have absolutely nothing to lose.

See you there - in the South Stand.