If the first Sunday of the Tetley's Super League season is a time when fresh aspirations are put to the test, then nobody has more to prove than two new Widnes players at Leeds today.
Ryan Sheridan and Andy Hay were part of a ruthless winter cull at Headingley, where both were shown the door despite being regular first-teamers and recent Great Britain internationals.
The shortage of decent scrum-halves in the British game was vividly illustrated by the scramble for Sheridan, with both Hull and promoted Huddersfield believing that he was joining them before he finally threw in his lot with Widnes. The Vikings had already signed one new scrum-half in Batley's Dean Lawford, but that made no difference to their coach, Neil Kelly.
He saw Sheridan as a player who could add an extra layer of quality and organisation to the squad who performed so well last year; as it turns out, the lack of a fit stand-off means that Sheridan and Lawford – originally team-mates and rivals at Sheffield Eagles – will probably both start at Headingley.
The need for Hay was less obvious, but early injuries to Andy Isherwood and Ryan McDonald mean that Kelly is now doubly pleased to have such an experienced second-rower on board.
Given the loss of the surprise factor this season, Kelly has acknowledged that he simply needs better players. His frustration is that he has not been able fill the gap left by the loss of Steve Carter and Craig Weston by signing Henry Paul. That would have taken Widnes on to another plane, but the club lacked the unanimity needed to swing the deal. They now look to have a team capable of consolidating last year's achievements, but not of greatly improving upon them.
As for Leeds, they could be poised on the brink of an exciting gamble. It has long been a truism that they have the best youth production line in the game; now the test is how much faith they will put in the outstanding youngsters who are champing at the bit for an extended run in the first team. It would be a signal of their intent if Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire and Ryan Bailey were all heavily involved this afternoon.
Leeds' only rivals for the quality and quantity of young players are Wigan, who start their campaign at Castleford. The popular choice for relegation, Halifax, hope to catch London cold at The Shay, while Hull, genuine top four candidates, are at Wakefield, who look better equipped to stay clear of the drop zone than for several seasons.Reuse content