MATT WHITLEY believes Widnes Vikings will bounce back from relegation and return to their “rightful place” in Rugby League’s top flight (writes Steve Brady, Catalan Media).

The 22-year-old second-rower is enjoying pre-season training at new club Catalans Dragons and while he’s fully focused on his role in Perpignan, he still has a soft spot for his former club.

“It was awful last year being relegated to the championship,” said Whitley. “Widnes are a great club and I’ll be forever grateful to them for giving me my chance. I played 100 games there and enjoyed every minute of it.

“It was very sad to be part of the team that went down but the club has a strong squad and with the new signings of Anthony Gelling and Krisnan Inu I’m sure they’re in with a good shot at bouncing back up into Super League straight away.

“They’ve got a lot of young talent at Widnes, the Chapelhow twins, Tom Gilmore, Danny Craven, Owen Farnworth, Liam Walsh and Owen Buckley. These lads are the future of the club, and if you add the experience of the new signings I think Widnes will be back very soon.”

The Billinge-born England Knight has signed a two-year deal for Super League’s French club. He has settled in quickly and the challenges presented have been made easier by the arrival of a familiar face with former Widnes prop Eamonn O’Carroll joining the coaching staff at the Dragons.

“The language is a bit of a blur at the moment, I’m definitely signing up for lessons,” said Whitley, “But it was great to see Freddy (O’Carroll’s nickname) on the pitch at training. It really helped me to settle in, he’s a great coach and I’m learning very quickly from Steve McNamara (head coach) and Richard Hunwicks (Head of Performance). Training’s been tough, which is what you want, but it’s been technical too.

“It’s a great set-up here in Perpignan and the club has been very friendly and helpful.

“I realise I’ve got a challenge to break into what is a very strong pack here at Catalans but it’s very simple, I’m going to work as hard as possible and take my chances when they come.

“I’m and out and out second-rower, I like the physical side of the game, the tackling and the contact.

“It’s up to us as forwards to dominate games. Catalans are famous for being hard to beat here in Perpignan and I want to be a part of that.

“It’s a great club and I’m really looking forward to the start of the season. All of my energy and focus will be on success for Catalans, but I will be keeping an eye on my old mates at Widnes.”