Wids issue their half term report

Widnes’ win away at Vale of Lune rounded off a terrific first half of the season for both players and spectators at Heath Road.

It means they end 2013 in third spot in the table, seven points behind leaders Wirral, and fourteen points ahead of Vale of Lune who occupy fourth spot, who themselves now have newly promoted Warrington snapping at their heels.

And, whilst the rugby on the field has at least matched - or even surpassed the performances of last season - one of the biggest noticeable differences has been that of the weather. This season there has been a clear run right through until Christmas, whereas, last year, plenty of games had already been called off. All of which meant the disruption of the Lancashire Cup, and which has contributed to its demise from the rugby calendar this year.

On reflection, it hardly seems a minute since everyone at Heath Road was looking forward to the start of the new season. Yet, here we are already, beyond the half way stage of the campaign and just eleven games left!

The good news during the closed season was that both Lee McDermott and Paul Newall decided to reprise their coaching roles, after earlier deciding that they were to step down after seven years in charge. Dave Welsh was installed as the new club captain, with Rob Critchley as his right hand man, and all this was followed up by a freshening up of ideas during pre-season training. Those changes prompted an early return with two big pre-season victories over Tarleton and Ruskin Park. However, that optimism was shaken somewhat just a week later in their first real test, as Widnes fell at the first hurdle in the Lancashire Trophy, losing 31 – 29 at Liverpool St Helens.

By a quirk of fate, the same two teams then met again just seven days later in the opening fixture of the new North One West season. This time, though, Widnes made amends for that early cup exit, winning comfortably by 34pts - 18 to get their league campaign off to the best of starts.

Week two, saw the team outplayed for long periods at Broughton Park but they replied in the best way possible, scoring with the final play of the game to make it two from two.

The positive results continued, with a further five successive victories against Vale of Lune, Wigton, Wilmslow, Wirral and Altrincham Kersal made it seven wins from seven, leaving them sitting proudly at the top of the table.

Widnes suffered their first defeat of the season against a very strong Birkenhead Park who looked as though they on a mission to get back into the National Leagues at the first attempt. With their invincibility shield down, Widnes began to show their vulnerable side over the next few matches.

Just a week later, they somehow managed to throw away a 21 point lead away at Warrington with just ten minutes left, to escape with a 34 – 34 draw.

Normal service was resumed seven days later, with a win over Carlisle, but the demons returned against Kendal the following week, as the team once again coughed up what should have been a winning lead to lose with the very last kick of the game.

A big home win over Kirkby Lonsdale was followed by yet another narrow escape – this time away at bottom club Leigh – but they held on to win 20 – 19 thanks to a virtuoso performance from Kevin Leadbetter.

But, after flying by the seat of their pants in those previous games, Widnes allowed Broughton Park to come back from the dead and clinch a 24 – 20 win at Heath Road with the last move of the game. Disappointment all round once again, but for Park it was revenge for that last gasp home defeat back in September.

The last game of 2013 saw Widnes make the trip to Vale of Lune, and despite missing more than a handful of players, they put in a real ‘backs to the wall’ job to triumph by 18pts – 10 in dreadful conditions to round off a great first half of the campaign.

Despite missing players through injury and un-availability, a number of players have stepped up to the mark this season and done a terrific job. They include; Josh Argent, Adam Loughnane, Liam Wilde, Andrew Benson, Tom Spencer, Sam Whitty, Gavin Hatton, Arnie Haydock, Chris Hall and Justin Winstanley. Added to the mix have been newcomers Matt and Tom Tindall, and they, along with the other - more established squad members - have shown that the club is on the way to developing the necessary strength in depth to be even more successful in the future.

The challenge now for Lee McDermott and Paul Newall’s squad is to build upon the success achieved so far, but with some really tough fixtures coming up in 2014, their resolve is likely to be tested to the full.

Nevertheless, both the players and the coaching staff will continue to give it their best shot during the second half of the campaign. Team spirit is good, and given a fair run with injuries, they may yet be pushing hard for a promotion place.

Elsewhere, the Seconds and Thirds have struggled somewhat in the lower reaches of the Raging Bull Leagues which themselves are more than competitive this season, and both teams will be looking for a turnaround in fortunes as the second half of the season gets under way.

The first team return to action on 4th January with a trip to Wigton.

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