18th man used for only second time as Widnes suffer four concussions

James Gordon
DCBL Stadium Halton Widnes Vikings News Images

The DCBL Stadium, home of Widnes Vikings. Photo: News Images

Widnes became the first Championship team to use their 18th man following four concussions in their defeat to Featherstone.

Will Tilleke was introduced in the second half to make history at the DCBL Stadium as they went down 30-0 to the league leaders.

The Vikings lost full-back Matt Fleming early on, and then on-loan Wigan centre Zach Eckersley followed him.

When Lewis Hatton was caught inadvertently while making a tackle on Featherstone’s Riley Dean and forced off, Tilleke started to warm up before half-time.

Hatton stumbled around worryingly following the tackle, despite referee Liam Rush initially signalling for play to continue, the game was stopped and the ex-Swinton forward eventually jogged off.

His frustration was evident and though he did briefly re-appear in the dugout at the start of the second half, it was soon confirmed that he too had failed a HIA.

Widnes coach John Kear, who has seen his fair share during his long career in the game, said he hadn’t seen anything like it.

He said: “It’s been chaotic. I’ve never known anything like it. It’s an unbelievable effort that the players have put in.

“We lost the full back, a centre and two middlemen, so it just puts stress on everyone with re-arranging the team.

“I want to pay tribute to Will Tilleke. The 18th men are very rarely used, but he prepared himself as if he was playing the game, and then when he went out there, I think he gave a real good 25 minutes of work in the middle.”

Adding to Widnes’ injury concerns

The Vikings also lost forward Ant Walker to concussion early in the second half too, leaving them with just 14 players from the 18 for the whole second half.

Fortunately for Kear, his side are not in action next week otherwise they would have been without all four players due to the return to play protocol.

The four will now take a break and hope to be given the all clear in time for Widnes’ next game, the Summer Bash opener against Swinton at York’s LNER Community Stadium.

The drama adds to Widnes’ growing injury concerns, with half-backs Danny Craven and Tom Gilmore both already sidelined.

Craven suffered a torn calf in the defeat at Batley, while Gilmore has been sidelined since the season opener at York, but is expected to return against the Lions.

Veteran prop Kyle Amor sat out the defeat to Featherstone with a knee injury, and Adam Lawton was also missing due to a knock.

Forwards Shane Grady and Aaron Brown, plus winger Ryan Millar are also sidelined, while Liam Bent was ruled out for the rest of the season with an ACL injury.

Kear hopes to have Grady and Brown back in contention for the Swinton game.

The defeat to Featherstone followed Monday night’s loss at Batley, the first time Widnes have lost consecutive games all season.

The second time an 18th man has been used

The 18th man rule was brought in by the RFL ahead of the 2023 season, after it was implemented at last year’s World Cup.

ABOUT: Clubs to name extra player in matchday squad as possible law changes discussed

It means all teams can name an 18th man, who will become available to play in the game if a side should suffer three concussions, as per the head injury assessment protocol.

Although it had never occurred prior to this season, the increased work that the RFL and its partners are doing in researching concussion and improving player welfare is designed to encourage players to report unseen symptoms of concussion.

So that players feel that they can do that without disadvantaging their team-mates, the 18th man system was put in place.

The first time it was used came in Super League back in March, when Hull KR used 18th man Will Dagger during their defeat to Catalans.

Dean Hadley, Jordan Abdull and Frankie Halton failed head injury assessments, and that saw Dagger enter the fray for the final 10 minutes. Hull KR lost the game 26-12.

The NRL introduced the 18th man rule back in March 2021.

MORE: Championship round-up: QLT v PLT, huge win for Halifax & Odsal try-fest