Endacott in element for fight against relegation

Widnes' coach needs a miracle to ensure his club's Super League survival. Dave Hadfield reports
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The Independent Online

"I was absolutely dirty and filthy," said the Widnes coach of his mood immediately after the thrashing by Wakefield last Sunday that took them to the brink of relegation from Super League. Endacott even cancelled his famously amiable midweek meeting with the media. "I just had too many issues to work through with the players," he said. "Believe me, a lot of issues."

Straight after the defeat that left them needing a minimum of three wins for any chance of safety, Endacott accused those players of lacking desire and hinted that he might be heading back to New Zealand sooner rather than later. By the weekend, however, he had mellowed a little. "It's not a matter of not trying," he said. "Every player out there is trying; some of them might be trying too hard. But our execution was very, very poor."

He was also soft-pedalling on his own plans. Endacott is 57, the oldest coach in Super League, and if Widnes go into National League 1 he will not be going with them. But, as for leaving before the end of this season, that is something he cannot countenance. "I've never quit yet at anything I've done," he said, "so I'm not going to start now."

Endacott has enjoyed far more success than failure in a coaching career which has been highlighted by taking charge of the Auckland Warriors, New Zealand and Wigan.

Last season, he was brought back to Britain as a coaching consultant to Widnes and was largely responsible for keeping them up. This year has been different, with a variety of factors - injuries, under-performing players, inconsistency - dragging the Vikings back into a relegation battle which, this time, they look destined to lose.

"I'll not start making excuses. I believed we had the squad to keep us out of this," says Endacott, who is unapologetic about his policy of bringing in veterans whose capabilities he knew from his Wigan days.

"Terry O'Connor has been the best yardage man in Super League. Mick Cassidy has been fantastic and the two of them have showed a lot of our young forwards what professional rugby league is all about. "Gary Connolly got injured, but he has been really good in recent weeks, so I think it was a good move bringing them in."

If all of Widnes' players had shown the same commitment as those three, the club would be in a different position, but the fact now is that it will take some unlikely results, starting with the game at home to Hull tomorrow, to give them even an outside chance of survival. "Where there's breath, there's life," Endacott insists. "In one sense, the pressure is off and we just have to go out there and play the best football we can.

"It's been a difficult year, but, I tell you what, I've enjoyed it. I love the battle and I'm going to walk around with my head high."

He has not enjoyed everything, though. He did not enjoy seeing fans streaming out of the Halton Stadium shortly after half-time against Wakefield last week. "I'm not used to supporters doing that, but I understand that things are different over here.

"I don't mind constructive criticism, but I'm not taking any rubbish from them when I know I'm doing my job and doing it well. Besides, if you listen too much to the fans you finish up sitting with them."

He might have relished the battle, but Endacott believes that it is one they should not be fighting. "No one will convince me that relegation is the best system. All that will happen is that the team that's promoted will sign our players - and then they will struggle next season.

"Nobody in Super League wants Widnes to go down - we take too many spectators to their grounds - and I think a decision could be made that would keep us in.

"You can talk about moving the goalposts in mid-season, but rugby league has done that plenty of times in its history."

Just supposing the game declines to do that this time - by switching ahead of schedule to a 14-team competition, for instance - Endacott still thinks there is another straw at which Widnes could grasp. "We don't know that the team that wins NL1 will qualify. They certainly won't have our facilities or our academy set-up."

Injuries mean that Endacott has brought a couple of his youngsters into the squad for this weekend. "I've blooded a few this season," he says. "If it wasn't for the threat of relegation, I'd have brought in a lot more." Perhaps they can bring a new freshness and optimism to Widnes' last twitchings in Super League.

"Everybody was really grim after last Sunday, but we can't afford to be in that state of mind," said the man who might now be called Slightly Less Unhappy Frank. "We had to get out of that - and we have."