Denis Betts has a young squad bursting with talent but do they possess the experience Super League demands?
Coach: Denis Betts
2017 Position: Regular season – 12th. Super 8s – 2nd
Key player – Joe Mellor
Denis Betts has assembled a young squad at Widnes but they will depend on experienced players like Joe Mellor.
Mellor suffered from a series of injuries in 2017, as Widnes struggled in the regular season, but got himself fit for the qualifiers as the Vikings defied critics to secure their Super League status.
Previously, Mellor starred in Widnes’ run to the Super 8s in 2016, then formed a prolific partnership with Kevin Brown, which contributed 11 tries and 16 assists as Betts’ side impressed.
He will need to do the same alongside Tom Gilmore in 2018, though Danny Craven could also play a big part if Widnes are to survive. Still, Mellor needs a big campaign at the heart of Widnes’ attack.
Fresh Face – Krisnan Inu
The tragic death of Kato Ottio shook the sport after the Papua New Guinea player enjoyed a tremendous World Cup before his passing in January.
Ottio was one of several new faces Widnes brought in during the off-season, including the Albert brothers, Stanton and Wellington.
However, the most recognisable signing is centre Krisnan Inu, who has joined from Catalans Dragons.
A New Zealand international who formed part of their 2008 World Cup winning squad, Inu has proven quality from his time in the NRL, but also from his performances in the South of France.
This experience could prove invaluable for a Widnes side so lacking in the know-how of Super League.
One to watch – Danny Walker
There are some budding youngsters lining up to make their mark for the Vikings in 2018. But it’s the 18-year-old hooker Danny Walker who has got them talking at Widnes. He made 12 appearances for the club last season, all off the interchange bench, with one display in the Challenge Cup against Warrington really standing out.
An England academy international and a hooker with plenty of dynamism in his game, Walker is set for a big year.
Aaron Heremaia, Jordan Johnstone and Lloyd White are all competing for the hooking position but do not bet against Walker claiming it.
Reasons for optimism
There is bags of young talent at Widnes. And I’ve already picked out Danny Walker as one to watch, but Jordan Johnstone offers versatility and creativity as well.
Sam Tomkins interviews Super League stars in the Sky Sports News studio ahead of the new Super League season
Then there’s the Chapelhow twins, Jay and Ted, who are learning their craft in the pack while full-back Olly Ashall should push Rhys Hanbury for game time in 2018 and the likes of Brad Walker, Ryan Ince and Owen Farnworth can be expected to feature this season.
On this basis the future looks bright for Widnes.
Reasons for concern
Do Widnes possess enough experience to survive in Super League? They finished bottom of the pile in 2017 in the regular season and were knocked by the departure of Kevin Brown late in the day.
More seasoned players like Corey Thompson, Eamon O’Carroll, Chris Bridge and Jack Buchanan have all moved on or retired this winter in addition to the loss of Rangi Chase to a drugs ban.
Just to confound all that, Will Matthews returned to Australia before even playing a game after being released on compassionate grounds.
There’s some real talent left behind in the void of the Viking ranks, but will they develop enough to move Widnes forward in 2018?