It’s a famous old football adage that “you can’t win anything with kids” coined by Alan Hansen on Match of the Day.
He, of course, was proved wrong the same season by a youthful Manchester United team, and Denis Betts and Widnes Vikings will be hoping they can enjoy similar success and prove critics wrong in 2018.
After finishing bottom of the pile in 2017, the Vikings survived relegation by successfully navigating The Qualifiers, securing survival with a fine win away at Catalans Dragons, the club’s first.
Recruitment has been thin and instead, their hopes are going to be pinned on a growing number of promising youngsters, many of whom got their first team bows in 2017 after a crippling injury list forced Betts in to using no fewer than 39 players over the season.
It means most are predicting the Vikings to struggle once again this campaign. Former Catalans centre Krisnan Inu is their most notable recruit, with other new faces coming in the shape of Papua New Guinean brothers Wellington and Stanton Albert and young ex-Warrington back-rower Sam Wilde.
Having sold Kevin Brown ahead of last season, and then losing Rangi Chase to a drugs ban, Widnes have once again put their faith in Tom Gilmore, now 23, alongside Joe Mellor at half-back though Danny Craven is likely to have a major impact after becoming a key figure of their survival bid last season.
Rhys Hanbury is still an exciting option at full-back, while if fit, Patrick Ah Van will score tries.
But ultimately, it’s the impact of the younger players that is going to determine the Vikings’ success. Jordan Johnstone showed maturity beyond his years as he played regularly at hooker last season, while teenager Danny Walker immediately captured attention with his dynamic performance against hometown club Warrington in the Challenge Cup.
It is perhaps names that we are not yet familiar with – the likes of Brad Walker, Owen Farnworth and Ireland centre Ed Chamberlain – whose progress and impact may prove the difference.
Looking at their squad on paper, it will take a big effort from the Vikings to replicate 2014 and 2016, when they finished in the top eight. Generally, when they have done well, it has been off the back of a good start, and their opening day fixture against Catalans is already looking like a must win.
For the Vikings, it is perhaps the developing of their own that their Super League future can be pinned on – whether that be through licensing or otherwise.
Coach: Denis Betts
Assistant: Francis Cummins
Captain: Leadership group
Key Man: Rhys Hanbury
One to Watch: Owen Farnworth
Ins: Sam Wilde (Warrington), Krisnan Inu (Catalans), Wellington Albert, Stanton Albert (both PNG Hunters)
Outs: Chris Bridge (retired), Corey Thompson (Wests), Eamon O’Carroll (retired), Tom Armstrong (Toronto), Manase Manuokafoa (Albi), Rangi Chase (banned), Jack Buchanan.
Squad: 1 Rhys Hanbury, 2 Stefan Marsh, 3 Krisnan Inu, 4 Charly Runciman, 5 Patrick Ah Van, 6 Joe Mellor, 7 Tom Gilmore, 8 Gil Dudson, 9 Lloyd White, 10 Alex Gerrard, 11 Chris Houston, 12 Matt Whitley, 13 Hep Cahill, 14 Chris Dean, 15 Danny Craven, 16 Tom Olbison, 17 Sam Wilde, 19 Greg Burke, 20 Macgraff Leuluai, 21 Jordan Johnstone, 22 Ryan Ince, 23 Danny Walker, 24 Ed Chamberlain, 25 James Chapelhow, 26 Ted Chapelhow, 27 Olly Ashall, 28 Brad Walker, 29 Owen Farnworth, 30 Keanan Brand, 31 Liam Walsh, 32 Lloyd Roby, 33 Aaron Heremaia, 34 Dan Norman, 35 Joe Lyons, 36 Wellington Albert.