Wakefield Show Widnes The Way
There was a time, many moons ago, when Widnes was a club synonymous with success both domestically and on the world club scene. Unfortunately the financial excesses of that period eventually bit hard, and the Super League era has been something of a wilderness for the newly branded Vikings. Super League status, if not a stated goal at the start of each season, is certainly not something that is taken for granted.
Economically that seemed unlikely to change for a while, but a quick glance at what has been achieved in 2017 by this weekend’s opponents Wakefield Trinity might offer hope to Dennis Betts’ side. It is only two short years since the then Wildcats won just three of their 23 regular season games before a raft of recruitment guided them through the Super 8 Qualifiers, albeit not without the need for a Million Pound Game win over Bradford Bulls. Now they sit on the fringes of a top four spot, just a point behind Hull FC in that last semi-final spot. A home game with a currently struggling Vikings side is not likely to do their hopes of making the final four any harm.
Meanwhile Widnes, while taking heart in what can be achieved long term from a position of apparent hopelessness, must content themselves for now with the battle to avoid bottom spot. If they can upset the odds here they will host a de-motivated Warrington next week with a real shot of doing just that. But it is how they fare in the Qualifiers that will define their season now, with relegation out of the top flight unthinkable despite their recent toils. It is very difficult to say with any great confidence that they will be too good for the Championship’s top brass, though they have been boosted recently by new deals for Rangi Chase, Chris Houston and the excellent youngster Danny Walker.
Catalans Dragons – Too Good To Go Down?
On the subject of all things unthinkable, it would cause more than a stir at the RFL buffet counter if Super League does not maintain its French presence in 2018. Catalans Dragons have been fairly dreadful all year long, with Steve McNamara drafted in to replace the departed Laurent Frayssinous as Head Coach too late to spare the Perpignan outfit from a likely date with the Qualifiers. The prospect of all-French encounters with Toulouse in the Championship with water the mouths of fans of that division (assuming Toulouse don’t pass the Dragons on their way up this year), but the top flight’s bean counters will be having seizures at the prospect of losing their flagship non-English project.
Will it happen? Well, probably not. The Dragons look a decent squad on paper and the acquisitions of Luke Walsh, Sam Moa and Greg Bird for 2017 should have seen them stay more competitive. Yet they just haven’t been able to cope with the losses of Glenn Stewart and Dave Taylor up front in particular, while the influential Bird has missed large parts of the season through injury. On a bad day the Dragons can be as bad as anyone in Super League but surely they are not quite bad enough to finish outside the top four in a competition featuring four sides from what is still effectively a lower division.
The Dragons still have a mathematical hope of avoiding the Qualifiers but that should be extinguished this week when they go to St Helens. If it hasn’t already been scuppered by Huddersfield who play host to Leigh two days earlier. Saints have been strong at home results-wise in 2017 even if the performances haven’t always been convincing. There is no reason to believe that McNamara’s men can succeed where none of the top four have been able to this term. That suspicion is only strengthened by the fact that Saints are also desperate for the points which will keep them in the hunt for the top four spot. Even if their horrendous away from looks likely to ultimately cost them.