The Sky Sports commentary team paid tribute to the town of Widnes for inspiring some of the rising and current stars of Super League.
Speaking during St Helens’ televised home clash with Leeds Rhinos, trio Bill Arthur, Phil Clarke and Barrie McDermott highlighted the town’s development system.
Widnes Vikings have been out of Super League since their relegation in 2018 after seven years in the top flight, but have been an early part of some of the current game’s biggest names.
Sam Walters, who was a try-scorer in the 22-18 Super League defeat to St Helens on Friday night, joined Leeds Rhinos from Widnes Vikings academy alongside current team-mate Jarrod O’Connor.
Highly-rated Walters, 22, will join Wigan Warriors next season on a three-year deal under Matt Peet.
Rhinos full-back Richie Myler also began his career at Widnes alongside current Super League players such as Jordan Johnstone, Danny Walker, Matt Whitley and Adam Sidlow.
Widnes-based amateur club Halton Hornets have also produced some of the best current talent in Super League, including Wigan’s Harry Smith, Saints’ Lewis Dodd, Jon Bennison and George Delaney and Castleford’s Danny Richardson.
Town of Widnes producing Super League superstars
“Full credit to towns like Widnes who aren’t in the top division but are still inspiring players today,” said McDermott.
Lead commentator Arthur adding: “Junior clubs like Halton Farnworth Hornets who always come up in these conversations and bring so much to the game.”
Outside of the top flight, names like Olly Ashall-Bott, Brad Walker, Adam Lawton, Shane Grady, and Jay and Ted Chapelhow all began their careers with the Vikings.
Some former stars to feature for the Widnes Vikings academy also include Chris Atkin and Anthony Mullally, with the latter making his professional debut with the club.
Widnes terminated their academy operations after ‘careful considerations’ in 2020.
“This decision has been a tremendously difficult one for all involved, however there are a number of factors that have contributed to the club reaching this conclusion,” a statement read.
“The youth system has been a cornerstone of the club over the past decade, producing over 30 players who have gone on to represent the first team, with some going on to gain international recognition.
“Despite this, a number of challenges have presented themselves in recent times which have made it increasingly more difficult to sustain an academy.”
The Covid-19 pandemic and its associated financial and logistical challenges cited as one of the major reasons, as well as a 43% reduction in funding following relegation and administration.