Less than three weeks after the Super League licence announcement, Widnes’ season is in danger of imploding as questions begin to be raised about the timing of the decision.
Although the Vikings followed the RFL’s pathway to the book to earn their elevation, it has cast somewhat of a shadow over the remainder of the Championship season.
Of course the decision was made early to enable Widnes time to prepare for Super League in 2012, which is fair enough, but what does it mean for the integrity of the second tier for the rest of this year?
We’re in danger of losing the real meaning of the sport – and that is an on-field product, designed to entertain fans.
Widnes have now lost four of their last five matches, but it all pales in to insignificance, as their future beyond 2011 is already secured. But the major worry for chairman Steve O’Connor and his staff now is that their form doesn’t drop off so alarmingly that it costs them fans for 2012, with the club setting an ambitious 7000 membership target in the aftermath of their successful application.
Of course, their players should have the added motivation that they are in the best seat to earn a Super League deal for 2012, but maybe some of them realise they aren’t good enough, or maybe know that they don’t fit in to any future plans.
It’s the same from a coaching point of view too – Denis Betts is the current coach, but where does it leave him when he sees stories linking the Vikings to the likes of Wayne Bennett and Tim Sheens from Down Under.
It hasn’t necessarily been the defeats that have hurt Widnes – Leigh and Batley are both very tough to beat at home in this level – but the Vikings haven’t recorded a point in the second half in three of their last four games, having led by a two score cushion in all three games at some point of the first half.
Up the road at Leigh, their 100% start to the season continued on Sunday as they defeated Halifax, but their achievements are somewhat overshadowed by the fact that the on-field achievement of teams at this level are very rarely acknowledged.
The Centurions don’t even know for sure whether their progress this season will be worth anything, as we still await confirmation that the same on-field criteria will apply to the next round of licensing applications – winning the Northern Rail Cup or appearing in the Championship Grand Final.
While the licensing system appears to be working in terms of encouraging improved standards of clubs off the field, as well as the development of youngsters (see Castleford as a fine example of this), we’re in danger of damaging the integrity of the sport on the field, which is the real reason we all fell in love with it in the first place.