Widnes' dates with destiny

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The Independent Online

The Rugby League does not have a fixtures computer, but, if it had, it would be one that does not like Widnes. Super League fixtures are worked out according to a complex formula and then tweaked and juggled to take account of factors like ground availability and Bank Holiday derbies.

The Rugby League does not have a fixtures computer, but, if it had, it would be one that does not like Widnes. Super League fixtures are worked out according to a complex formula and then tweaked and juggled to take account of factors like ground availability and Bank Holiday derbies.

The process has not been kind this year to the Vikings. A club who only just avoided relegation last year have been given the hardest possible start to this campaign.

Last week, they were well beaten in their opening match at St Helens, and their opponents next week and the week after are Leeds and Wigan. Today, by way of relief, they have a visit from Bradford.

The so-called Big Four in the first four games of the season - it doesn't get much tougher than that for a side largely rebuilt by signing players within sight of the ends of their careers. The 32-year-old former Great Britain prop Terry O'Connor is a case in point. After 10 years at Wigan, he has at last fulfilled his destiny of joining his hometown club, but any hopes he might have entertained of a nice, steady homecoming have been rapidly dispelled.

"We know we've got a tough start, but, on the positive side, we are going to be match-hardened," he says. "Hopefully, playing at that intensity week in, week out, will set us up for the games to come." That is a good theory, but it means there is no settling-in period for players like O'Connor and his fellow veterans from Wigan, Gary Connolly and Mick Cassidy.

O'Connor hopes to be fit today after being kept out of the Saints game by a calf strain, and he is the sort of player whose know-how will be important to Widnes during the difficult weeks ahead.

The Vikings face a Bradford team today who will be stinging from their defeat by Wakefield. Their coach, Brian Noble, felt that they failed to use the conditions at Odsal intelligently, but one major structural problem with the side was also evident.

With Ryan Hudson still under a club ban pending an RFL drug investigation that is likely to take another couple of weeks, the Bulls have no specialist hooker. They used a combination of Robbie Paul and Paul Deacon at dummy-half against Wakefield and, apart from one incisive run from Paul, neither looked like the answer to the now 18-month-old question of how to replace James Lowes.

Today's other games see promoted Leigh, given a torrid introduction to Super League by Huddersfield, go to Warrington, while Huddersfield themselves have a home game against Hull.

The Giants won five of their first six matches last season, and the way they played last Saturday suggested an equally flying start this time - although their early fixtures are pretty demanding as well, with St Helens and Leeds coming up.

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