WIDNES Vikings remain upbeat and hungry going into the new season despite successive friendly defeats against Super League sides.

Skipper Mark Smith accepts players and supporters were disappointed to have lost 36-0 to Salford City Reds at the weekend but he also points to a whole new ball game as the 2010 campaign kicks off with a home Northern Rail Cup tie against a new-look Gateshead Thunder on Sunday, kick off 3pm.

Vikings, as holders of the trophy, want to make an opening statement of their intent not to let it go.

“It’s a massive start to a massive season and we want to win every game, starting on Sunday,” he said.

Gaining a tick in the box by winning the Northern Rail Cup was a massive motivational factor in their pursuit of gaining a Super League licence but the 29-year-old former Wigan hooker is highly enthusiastic about a return to Blackpool for a successive appearance in the final.

“It means a lot to be defending the trophy,” he said.

“People used to call it the Mickey Mouse Cup but I’ll tell you something, every cat and his dog wants to win it now to get the tick in the box.

“We’ve got the tick but it’s no different. We want to defend it and win it.”

Vikings can expect Thunder to be a different proposition to last season, having lost a financial backer, been relegated by the RFL and having to almost start a team from scratch under new coach Chris Hood.

And Smith expects opportunities will present themselves to Vikings against teams from the Championship levels after testing themselves against Salford and St Helens last week.

“I’m sure on Sunday we’ll approach the game differently, try to bully them and play a bit more entertaining rugby,” said Smith, who said the most important factor this season is to build-up the fan base in preparation for the next Super League licence application.

There were common factors in the losses to the two Super League sides, conceding a lot of points early doors and spending chunks of time without possession.

Vikings gave a better account of themselves with a fairer share of the ball, while the nilling by Salford can partly be put down to a lack of cutting edge just five days after the Saints match and with arguably having seven of their first-choice 17 sat in the stands.

“Although we’re disappointed with the result on Sunday I think we’ve come a long way from last year and we’re staying positive,” said Smith.

“I don’t think we can rest on our laurels and need to improve in every department but we have shown a lot of quality.

“People expected us to go into the friendlies playing one-out rugby but we’ve shown a bit of class in the side this year.

“We can play from deep in our half and on their line.

“To be fair, we will expect to get more opportunities against sides in our league but we’ve still got to work hard at that.

“The competitions are going to be big and strong this year.”