It was the first opportunity to tick the all-important on-field box for Super League, and in 2009, Widnes were able to take the first step to their top flight return.
The defeat of Barrow in the 2009 Northern Rail Cup final enabled the club to focus on the off-field processes, and while it was an enjoyable day out at Bloomfield Road, their fans probably remember the semi-final clash at Halifax with much fondness.
Star man Anthony Thackeray claimed the headlines with a superb hat-trick, but a costly knock on by Ben Black late on was to become the most infamous moment of the match, and probably Widnes’ whole season.
Backed by a large travelling support, courtesy of free coaches laid on by the club, Widnes went to play the Championship league leaders in their own back yard on a glorious day in June.
Thackeray took James Webster‘s short pass to go over for his first try, before Gavin Dodd went over for a fine score, with Craig Hall knocking over both the conversions and a penalty to give Widnes a 14-6 lead.
The Vikings fans were delirious when Thackeray dummied the Halifax defence off the back of a scrum to go over for a brilliant individual effort on 50 minutes, as Widnes opened up a 14 point lead.
But Halifax weren’t going to lie down without a fight, and snared three quick tries to turn the game on its head. First, Shad Royston pounced on a chip in to the Widnes in-goal, and then Ben Black raced home from 40 metres. Royston then grabbed his second try, quite literally, as he snatched the ball from Dodd’s hands when both went up for a kick.
With Widnes dumbfounded, and Halifax now in the lead at 22-20, Black broke through the line and looked certain to run home from 40 metres for a simple try, but he lost control of the ball and knocked on.
Widnes and their fans breathed a huge sigh of relief, and they levelled things up moments later, when Craig Hall converted a penalty from under the posts for 22-22.
Hall then edged Widnes in front with a fine drop goal before Thackeray looked to have won the match with another brilliant individual try, dummying his way through the Halifax defence before putting the ball down over the line.
But the drama wasn’t over yet, as Hall missed the goal, leaving the score at 27-22, and gave Halifax the chance to pile the pressure on Widnes, which they did, but the Vikings were able to cling on and make it to Blackpool.
Widnes went on to beat Barrow 34-18 in the final at Blackpool, with John Duffy claiming the man of the match award.
Halifax team: Miles Greenwood, Lee Patterson, Jon Goddard, Dwayne Barker, Rob Worrincy, Bob Beswick, Ben Black, Dana Wilson, Mark Gleeson, Said Tamghart, David Larder, Paul Smith, Shad Royston. Subs: Sean Penkywicz, David Wrench, Frank Watene, Mick Govin.
Widnes team: Gavin Dodd, Kevin Penny, Toa Kohe-Love, Craig Hall, Dean Gaskell, Anthony Thackeray, James Webster, Jim Gannon, Mark Smith, Steve Pickersgill, Richard Fletcher, Richard Varkulis, Iain Morrison. Subs: John Duffy, Lee Doran, Ben Kavanagh, Tim Hartley.
Halifax 22 (6) – Tries: Tamghart (6), Royston (55, 63), Black (60). Goals: Patterson (3/4)
Widnes 27 (14) – Tries: Thackeray (17, 50, 74), Dodd (30). Goals: Hall (5/6). Drop Goals: Hall (75)
Man of the Match: Anthony Thackeray
Referee: Ronnie Laughton