As Salford Red Devils secured their second win from two matches in The Qualifiers, fellow Super League team Widnes moved worryingly closer to relegation as they continue their search for their first points as they battle for top tier status.
Despite scoring first through Charly Runciman, the Vikings – who propped up the Super League regular season table – succumbed to an eighteenth consecutive league defeat in their 32-6 loss at fellow Super League strugglers Salford. However, it appears the recruitment of half back Jackson Hastings has turned the AJ Bell Stadium club’s spirit and, more pertinently, their survival hopes around. The 22-year-old Australian provided an assist – as did Robert Lui – for Junior Sau’u to score in the first half to give the hosts a 12-6 half time lead, one which was only extended in the second half.
It would appear that the arrival of Hastings has added a positivity and optimism to the Salford club which had eluded them prior to his arrival last month. Head coach Ian Watson admitted as much, explaining that “We were missing a piece of the puzzle this year and Jackson has come in and provided us with that.” Indeed, a sterling start to his Super League career has seen him linked with a move to a ‘bigger’ team for 2019 but, for now, he is the star in Salford’s team and, after Leeds Rhinos also won this weekend, they are one of only two teams to win both of their matches thus far in The Qualifiers, strengthening their hopes of Super League survival.
Widnes, however, are looking every inch relegation fodder. Many have thought throughout 2018 that their squad wasn’t strong enough to stay up and, in what is arguable the toughest campaign yet since the inception of The Qualifiers given the quality of the teams from the Betfred Championship, those fears of the drop seem to be coming to reality. Following their opening round home defeat to second tier London, a big loss to Salford leaves them second bottom of the table and, with the way they are playing, a Million Pound Game spot seems unlikely.
This season has seen their fans become increasingly disgruntled with the lack of investment in the team with CEO James Rule copping a lot of the fans’ anger but it was head coach, Denis Betts, who was sacked as a result of the team’s poor showings. However, his replacement, Francis Cummins, has been unable to steady the ship. With him only being in the role on an interim basis at the time of writing, relegation could see changes aplenty at the Vikings in the off-season, both on and off the field.
Some of those changes may be welcomed by the Widnes fanbase as the team has struggled over the past two years. However, their youth system is something that the club should seek to rebuild from – if they do get relegated. The likes of Olly Ashall-Bott have emerged this season to join Tom Gilmore, Danny Walker and Matt Whitley – all three members of the England Knights squad – and their production line seems to be a constant source of players with big potential.
If that was supplemented with experience in the right positions then relegation could see the club regroup and return to Super League in a year or two in a much healthier position than when they left – that, is of course, if they do indeed suffer relegation. Their next two matches look tough ones as, following next week’s Challenge Cup weekend, their campaign resumes with a tricky trip to Toulouse before hosting the reigning Super League champions Leeds Rhinos. Realistically, they need to win at least one of those two if they are to have any hope at all of top flight survival.