Widnes’ return to Super League has finally been confirmed, but the big challenge for the club starts right now.
After the heartbreak of three years ago, the relief and adulation was there for all to see at a packed Stobart Stadium this morning, as hundreds of fans took in the good news.
Since their exclusion from the inaugural season of Super League in 1996, the Vikings managed just four seasons in the top flight after promotion in 2001, before they were relegated in 2005 from 11th place to accommodate Catalans.
For chairman Steve O’Connor, it’s the culmination of four years of hard work, since he bought the club out of administration in 2007.
He said: “The award of a three year Super League licence to the Vikings represents the culmination of three and a half years relentless effort by the whole team. On behalf of the club I would like to express my thanks to our fans, players, partners, volunteers and the club’s administration team. I would also like to thank the RFL for making its dream a reality and Halton Borough Council and the stadium management team for its support.
“Super League will be great for the club, the town and the fans. However, it is also a challenge and we need people to show their support. We have stretching targets to achieve and the management team and I are up for the challenge.”
Widnes will now go about recruiting a team that can compete in 2012, as well as drumming up support to help them boost their attendances, with O’Connor aiming to treble their current 3000 average.
O’Connor has made it clear that he wants his side to do more than merely making up the numbers, and it will take a big effort from his staff to move the club up another level, and enable them to compete in the top flight.
With the promoted club being given extra time to prepare, it leaves Widnes in the bizarre position of having only just started this league season, but trying to focus on next season at the same time.
After starting the Northern Rail Cup strongly, and opening with a 44-16 win over Sheffield, the Vikings have slumped to defeats against Hunslet and Leigh, results which ultimately pale in to significance after today’s announcement.
As such, maintaining the integrity of the Championship competition is a big responsibility for the Vikings and the RFL this season.
It is perhaps the main criticism of the current licensing structure, in that it detracts away from the offering on the field this season. Widnes host York on Sunday, hoping to capture the buzz and excitement surrounding Super League by attracting a season high attendance against the City Knights.