Dave Craven: Super League could not jump ship on Vikings yet again

Regardless of whether the manner in which they have achieved it is palatable or not, there can be no argument that Super League will not seem a little more super with Widnes Vikings back in it.

Disappointed Halifax may privately be feeling their bid was superior given they are the reigning Championship Grand Final winners and have been far better on-field performers during the last three years.

But, in all reality, Widnes should have got the nod back in 2008 only to miss out controversially because of the RFL’s obsession with expansion, elevating the dubious Celtic Crusaders instead.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

When the Welsh franchise’s debut season ended in financial meltdown and farce, the Vikings kept their dignity – as they have done throughout – and refused to lambast the decision.

They had initially lost their place in 2005 due to the arrival of another foreign hopeful, Catalans Dragons usurping them, but their patience and integrity paid dividends yesterday when they were belatedly awarded that cherished licence for 2012-14.

As the waiting media assembled, the sight of Richard Lewis announcing to a live television audience that Widnes were the successful applicants was akin to someone standing up and saying Christmas will be held on December 25 this year; everyone knew what was coming as it was the worst kept secret in the game but it doesn’t mean it was the wrong one.

They may not have been as successful as Halifax on the pitch in the intervening three years but it is widely accepted that once Widnes had won the Northern Rail Cup in 2009 they ticked the box on playing standards and had no need to go on and reach a Grand Final as well.

Instead, they switched their attention to revitalizing their Academy, implementing systems and investing resources to a long-term plan of generating their own players and ensuring when they did arrive in Super League they would have no problems with providing the necessary homegrown talent.

Their first team may have suffered in the interim but it was a small price to pay and under the ambitious chairman Steve O’Connor they have both formulated a plan and grown a business which should flourish in the top flight.

People will both want to play for Widnes and watch Widnes. The prospect of derby days with Wigan, Warrington and St Helens will be a welcome one in 2012 and, having reported on St Helens versus Bradford at Stobart Stadium a week ago, their impressive ground is certainly another welcome addition to the circuit.

Let us not forget Widnes were World Club champions as recently as 1989, those halcyon days of Martin Offiah, Jonathan Davies, Alan Tait and the indomitable Hulme brothers.

They had enjoyed huge success during the 1970s and have always been deemed one of the game’s biggest clubs. Now they will get the opportunity to shine once more and, having learned of their fate in March, have ample time to assemble their 2012 squad.

Granted, as with all clubs, they are unable to speak to contracted players until September 1 but the modern-day agent is a clever beast; apparently some Vikings targets were offered Super League deals almost a year ago. However, the question remains, is licensing the way forward?

Widnes are undoubtedly a perfect model to point to and say ‘Yes’.

Hopefully Halifax will follow their example, improve where necessary and gain the same reward in 2014, if not in July when they get a second chance against the current Super League clubs.

It brings stability and helps avoid the ‘boom and bust’ cycle of promotion and relegation.

But, just as it is exciting to see Widnes’s return, the absence of those nerve-tingling relegation deciders of yesteryear remain one aspect of the calendar which is sorely missed by many, especially Wakefield Trinity Wildcats who must wish that option was still available to them now.