WIDNES Vikings CEO James Rule will step down from his role at the club ahead of the 2019 season.

In a statement released by the club today, Rule said he will depart to "pursue new opportunities and spend more time with his family."

It has been a difficult time for all connected with the Vikings following their relegation from the Super League last term.

And Rule himself came in for plenty of criticism from fans searching for answers after treading water for years after a bright start on their return to the top flight.

He will not leave immediately, but plans will be put in place on how the club will be run going forward.

Rule commented: “It has been an honour to lead Widnes Vikings for six years, so this has naturally been a difficult decision to make. However, I believe it is now the right time for me to step aside, to pursue new opportunities and spend more time with my family, who have been a consistent support in what has been an all-consuming role.

"Working at Widnes Vikings has been a genuine privilege.

"The club has faced some real challenges in past seasons, and I am proud to have helped the club to navigate them with the support of our staff, partners and Members. It has been an honour to work with some incredible people, who are totally dedicated to this club and its ongoing success, and naturally I will miss them all.

"Before announcing my departure, it was important to me to help the club to deal with the immediate challenges of relegation and to leave strong foundations for the coming season. Having supported Phil Finney, our new Performance Director, in the retention and recruitment of the backbone of the club’s 2019 squad and performance team, and dealt with the immediate operational challenges that come with relegation, I now feel that it is an appropriate stage to plan my departure from the Vikings.

"I will be working with Widnes Vikings’ Board of Directors to support them to develop the necessary succession plans and to agree my transition from the club, before the start of the season. I wish the club every success in its bid to return to Super League and thank everyone I have worked with throughout my tenure.

"Further details will be announced in due course, as plans are finalised.”

Steve O’Connor, Chairman of Widnes Vikings, says: “James has worked tirelessly for the club throughout his time at Widnes Vikings, managing many often unseen difficulties to help protect and sustain this club in difficult circumstances.

"We are naturally sorry to lose someone with his leadership skills, work ethic and abilities, and wish him every success in the next chapter of his career. He has made a strong contribution to Widnes Vikings in many areas and can be proud of his tenure here.

"The Board will now be working with James to agree the next steps for his departure and to identify the correct long-term leadership arrangements for the club.”