Widnes Vikings: Improvement the main aim in second season back in top flight
Last Updated: February 1, 2013 2:27pm
Gareth Hock: late arrival to Widnes' squad (photo courtesy of Kim Pullman)
After finishing last season in last position, Widnes will hope that two big-name signings will help propel them up the standings in 2013.
Widnes finished bottom of the pile in their first season back in the Super League but there were enough glimpses of quality to give the Vikings cause for optimism heading into 2013.
Coach: Denis Betts (since November 2010)
Captain: Jon Clarke
2012 finish: 14th
In: Kevin Brown (Huddersfield), Gareth Hock (Wigan, on season-long loan), Stefan Marsh, Joe Mellor (both Wigan), Phil Joseph (Bradford)
Out: Anthony Mullally (Huddersfield), Simon Finnigan, Thomas Coyle (both Leigh), Kurt Haggerty (Barrow), John Kite (released), Paul McShane (returned to Leeds after loan spell)
They managed a total of six wins, including a shock 37-36 success against regular-season table-toppers Wigan at Stobart Stadium Halton in March.
Denis Betts' side had to wait until July for their first and only away win, but the eight-try triumph at Salford was probably their finest performance of the campaign.
Such a win looked improbable at the start of the season when a string of heavy defeats led to questions over their top-flight credentials. A 76-6 hammering by Catalan Dragons in France was the worst of the results but Widnes were also given thrashings by Huddersfield, St Helens and Warrington before the end of May.
The high points came with much greater frequency towards the end of the season and the Vikings side ended their season with a run of three wins out of six on home turf.
Widnes finished 2012 level on points with Castleford and just two behind London Broncos but the new boys had the worst points difference in the league by a large margin.
Ins and Outs
Bolstering the squad was a necessity for the Vikings if they were to make a marked improvement and the marquee signings of Kevin Brown and Gareth Hock have certainly raised expectations.
Former Huddersfield captain Brown agreed a long-term deal last year while his brother-in-law Hock has joined on a season-long loan after a fallout with parent club Wigan.
Centre Stefan Marsh and half-back Joe Mellor have also been recruited from Wigan, the duo joining on permanent deals after spending much of the 2012 campaign on loan with Widnes.
Utility forward Phil Joseph switches from Bradford to add some depth to the pack, which will again include Ben Cross after he delayed his plans to retire at the end of last season.
The front row has been hardest hit by departures, with young prop Anthony Mullally joining Huddersfield and hooker Paul McShane returning to Leeds after a loan spell at the end of last year. John Kite has left after the completion of his one-year deal while Simon Finnigan, Thomas Coyle and Kurt Haggerty have all joined Championship sides.
Although they may still be short of the all-around quality required to mount a push for the play-offs, Widnes are stronger on paper than one year ago and it will be particularly interesting to see how the half-back pairing of Brown and Rhys Hanbury develops.
Kevin Brown: has now been joined by his brother-in-law at the Vikings
Widnes are heading into the second season of their three-year Super League licence, meaning an improvement will be called for even if it is not quite crunch time yet.
The Vikings have certainly made the right moves in the off-season, recruiting Hock while also welcoming Brown to the club. The duo would not look out of place in any side in the league and instantly become the team's two biggest stars.
The Widnes faithful will be hoping the duo can raise the level of the players around them as the rest of the squad needs to step it up a notch if a major improvement is to be made.
Cross' decision to play on is a big boost, while Steve Pickersgill and Hep Cahill are both tough, experienced campaigners who should complement Hock well in a strong-looking pack.
Hanbury and Brown are set to pull the strings for the backs, who will need to improve their defence first and foremost if a major step forward is to be made.
If things come together as expected, 10 wins over the course of the season should be a realistic goal before the real push is made towards play-off contention in 2014.