WIDNES kept their defence of the Northern Rail Cup on track with a fine 44-8 win over Sheffield Eagles at Stobart Stadium Halton.

Wingman Gavin Dodd starred with a hat-trick of tries, while centre Tim Hartley racked up 20 points through a try and eight goals.

The Vikings had a troubled week's preparation leading into the game with illness and injury restricting attendance at training to just eleven players at times.

But one would never have known it in the opening moments as Steve McCormack's men made an impressive start.

After just three minutes, a set move saw scrum-half John Duffy send centre Ian Hardman striding through a gap to open the scoring and four minutes later stand-off Lee Paterson and Hartley combined to put Dodd over for his first score of the afternoon.

Hartley was on target with both conversions to give Widnes a 12-0 lead.

Any thoughts of a rout were quickly dispelled, however, as the Eagles began to show some of the quality which had seen them gain impressive wins over Celtic Crusaders and Featherstone Rovers in recent weeks.

Indeed, for the remainder of the first half, the Yorkshire visitors had arguably slightly the better of things.

They looked certain scorers on several occasions, but committed last-ditch defence from the Vikings kept them at bay until the interval.

There was every reason to believe a close contest was in the offing in the second period, but Widnes had other ideas.

They came out and played some of their best rugby of the season to take the game by the scruff of the neck.

On 42 minutes Paterson and the impressive Tommy Gallagher exchanged passes with the former stretching over to increase the lead.

Hartley's conversion, followed by a penalty, made it 20-0 - and the same player then crossed the whitewash after a superb Mark Smith break was carried on by Gallagher, whose superb one-handed offload put Hartley in.

The shell-shocked Eagles were further disrupted when ex-Viking Matt Whitaker was sin-binned allowing Hartley to add another two points and the game was well and truly up when Dean Gaskell, Duffy and Paterson combined to send Dodd in for his second try of the afternoon.

A flat pass from the play-the-ball saw second row Danny Hill romp over for a six-pointer to make it 36-0 before Hill blotted his copybook by getting himself sent to the bin for a careless high tackle.

It prompted a mini-revival by Sheffield, who ran in two consolation tries as a blizzard swept across Stobart Stadium Halton.

But it was the Vikings who finished dominantly.

A pair of Hartley penalty goals preceded Dodd's hat-trick score - a 90-metre dash after he scooped up an Eagles grubber kick close to his own try line before racing clear.

All in all, a more than satisfactory afternoon's work from Widnes, who will look forward to Thursday night's quarter-final draw with some confidence.

Widnes: Yates; Gaskell, Hardman (1t), Hartley (1t,8g), Dodd (3t); Paterson (1t), Duffy; Morrison, Smith, Gannon, Hill (1t), Draper, Beswick. Subs: Grady, Gallagher, Roper, Kavanagh.