Widnes Vikings – A Fan’s View

Continuing the theme this week is Widnes Vikings supporter Neil Barker, A 29-year-old sales executive who represents the views of his hometown team.nnHow do you think the RFL will view your bid?nWidnes, in my opinion, have the strongest bid of all the clubs from outside super league, and should be in a stronger position than some existing SL clubs.nnWhen judged against the areas the RFL are considering, Widnes have a strong bid. Since the takeover from Steve O’Connor, the club has been transformed dramatically off the pitch, and we have maintained a competitive team on the field in NL1.nn nWhy do you think Widnes should be included?nThe club is a Super League club in all but status at the moment. Widnes has excellent facilities at the Stobart Stadium Halton, great fans base, top notch local amateur set up, excellent off the field program, and high profile international sponsors. This will enable a world class playing staff to be assembled in Super League. In short Widnes have all the ingredients necessary to succeed the top tier.nnWhat will Widnes add to Super League?nA great brand, competitive team, excellent support and the ability to keep producing young English players for the international scene.nnWhat do you think of the other teams’ bids?nThere are certain teams guaranteed entry into SL – Wigan, St Helens, Leeds, Bradford, Hull, Harlequins, Catalans, Huddersfield and Warrington. All of which thoroughly deserve their place in SL. nnThe likes of Hull KR Wakefield and Castleford all have question marks over their stadia and long term financial future which could pose a problem for them, plus they have not provided a real “contribution” to the SL, as the RFL puts it . nnOutside of Super League Leigh have the look to have the strongest bid, behind Widnes, but again question marks remain due to their location and financial stability long term and their ability to attract world class players. Halifax, Featherstone and Toulouse all do not have a realistic chance of entry to SL. They simply do not tick enough boxes. That leaves Salford and the Celtic Crusaders. nnSalford have been an established SL team but failed to make an impact in the past. They have an astute chairman with finances in place but lack the stadium to match their ambition. nnCeltic Crusaders are the bid there has been most discussion about. They do not have a history in RL so cannot gain any points for contribution. They don’t have a productive youth set up or an amateur base to take young players from. The stadium they play in is not up to standard. But they do have location on their side. The RFL has made it clear they wish to “expand the game in Wales” and I have a sneaking feeling they will do all they can to include them in the SL license system. My personal view is that they do not have a complete enough bid to be entered into SL this time. They have only been competing at NL1 level for 1/2 a season and although they are doing well this is due only to the high numbers of Australian players they are allowed by the RFL. nnIf another team in National League 1 such as Widnes, Salford, Leigh, or Halifax where allowed such an advantage they too would be performing at a higher than expected level. nnIncluding them in 3 years time would give chance to assess their financial status, youth development, ground improvements, etc. Does SL really need a team of Australians playing in a small town in Wales?nnWho do you think the RFL will choose?nThe teams I think they will choose differ from the teams I think should be included. They will go for the current 12 clubs plus Salford and Celtic.nnWhat do you think will happen if Widnes don’t get in? nI think they’ll be a certain amount of disappointment and frankly amazement if that is the case. Widnes have between the eighth and tenth strongest bid in my opinion and only a bizarre decision by the RFL can stop us achieving that. Widnes will survive for the three years if they don’t get included.nnDo you agree with the whole process?nYes. This has been needed for a long time and can only benefit the clubs in the longer term.nnWho would you like to see get a franchise?nThe teams I think should be included are the current twelve plus Salford and Widnes.nnAny final thoughts?nIt’s going be a really tense three weeks for the supporters of Widnes, Leigh, Salford, Celtic, Castleford, Wakefield and Hull KR. This is simply because the RFL have not been transparent enough in the process that is being used to evaluate the clubs. nnPersonally I’ll be happy when it’s all over. And I can get down to supporting my team knowing where our future lies. Either way I’ll still be “Widnes till I Die!”nnFinney’s Final Thought: I have to say I believe that Widnes do have the strongest bid out of all the National League applicants, in fact it seems better than some of the existing clubs. Widnes are too big to ignore. What may go against them is the recent financial problems, although their immediate future is secure. The achievements made by Steve O’Connor to transform the club, in such a short space of time, are outstanding and Widnes fans will be praying that the RFL recognise the potential of this former giant; but they will be aware that they have already missed the boat for Super League in the past – hopefully, for the Vikings, lightning will not strike twice.nnkevin.finney@lasttackle.com

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