Widnes Vikings head coach: Six potential candidates following departure of John Kear

Josh McAllister
Widnes Vikings potential coaches with Stuart Littler, Matty Smith and Denis Betts named.

Widnes Vikings potential coaches with Stuart Littler, Matty Smith and Denis Betts named.

Widnes Vikings are on the search for their next permanent head coach following the departure of John Kear last week. 

The 68-year-old coach was released by mutual consent after a poor run of results, having only taken over in June last year.

Assistant coach Mike Grady, the boss of Spain’s national team, also left the Championship outfit, with Neil Belshaw taking charge over the weekend for their trip to Toulouse.

Here are six potential candidates to take over at the DCBL Stadium…

Matty Smith

Former England international half-back and 2013 Lance Todd trophy winner Matty Smith finished his playing career at Widnes at the end of 2022, making 67 appearances for the club.

Having featured 357 times during his career with the likes of Wigan, St Helens, Warrington and Catalans, Smith is now currently the head coach of the Women’s side at the Totally Wicked Stadium.

Smith was appointed new boss in December 2022, marking his first venture into coaching following his retirement from the sport.

Alan Kilshaw

Alan Kilshaw is believed to have had interest in the Widnes job in previous years, and is currently the head coach at League 1 side Hunslet.

Having coached Warrington’s youth development and England youth and academy from 2011 to 2013, Kilshaw joined Rochdale as head coach in 2016 following a stint in Australia with Sarina Crocodiles and Mackay Cutters.

Against the odds, he helped guide the Hornets to promotion from League 1 with a famous victory away at Toulouse.

Kilshaw was appointed as Hunslet’s head coach in July 2021, succeeding Gary Thornton, who now ironically coaches Rochdale at the Crown Oil Arena.

Hunslet currently sit third in the League 1 table, claiming nine wins from 12 so far in 2023.

Stuart Littler

Stuart Littler could be of interest to the Vikings, currently coaching League 1’s Oldham.

Littler has plenty of experience within his coaching career, having previously led Ireland on the international stage for four years, including qualification for the delayed 2021 World Cup in England.

Oldham currently sit fourth in the League 1 table with eight wins, and a move could present an opportunity for Mike Ford to take on the coaching, having been a part of the recent takeover alongside local businessman Mick Harrington.

Littler also coached Swinton, and enjoyed a long and successful playing career with Leigh, Salford and the Lions.

Eamon O’Carroll

Eamon O'Carroll Catalans Dragons SWpix
Eamon O’Carroll returned to Catalans Dragons last season. Photo: Catalans Dragons/SWpix

Leeds Live previously reported that Eamon O’Carroll was on the final shortlist for the vacant Bradford Bulls job following the departure of Mark Dunning.

The 36-year-old was previously head coach at Newcastle Thunder, before returning to Super League side Catalans Dragons as part of their coaching setup.

He had previously acted as an assistant coach to Steve McNamara before taking the job in the north east.

If O’Carroll is interested in a way back into head coaching, this opportunity may provide the perfect pathway, with Bradford confirming that interim coach Lee Greenwood will take charge for the remainder of the Championship campaign.

John Duffy

It would be hard to see John Duffy leave his position as Wigan’s academy head coach, but this appointment could spark a bright future for the Vikings.

The former Leigh Centurions boss joined Wigan ahead of 2023, and has previous coaching experience with Featherstone, Swinton and various roles with the Scotland national team.

Duffy works closely with Warriors head coach Matt Peet, developing the youngsters at the DW Stadium and potential short-term movements, including Zach Eckersley’s loan move to Widnes Vikings.

Denis Betts

Newcastle Thunder Denis Betts
Newcastle Thunder director of rugby Denis Betts

Could Denis Betts return to his former club to help overturn their season and guide them to a higher finish in 2023?

The 53-year-old stepped down from his position as director of rugby at Newcastle Thunder upon the completion of the 2022 campaign, having led the rugby league department at Kingston Park since March 2019.

Betts left Widnes in 2018 after eight years in charge, replaced at the time by Francis Cummins on an interim basis.

Widnes have suffered seven defeats in the last eight, and currently sit eighth on the table with 14 points, but are not quite safe from the relegation drop.

York, Keighley and Swinton all sit just below with 12 points, with Barrow on 11 and Newcastle on five. With two set to go down to League 1, it isn’t all safe yet for Widnes Vikings.

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