Widnes lead the way in race to reach Super League

Denis Betts' side look poised to get new licence but Barrow and Halifax have not given up hope. All will be decided today.

They will be celebrating by lunch-time today at one of rugby league's traditional bastions. At Barrow, Halifax or, most likely, Widnes, they will be absorbing the good news that they will be in Super League next season – and they will not have thrown a pass or made a tackle to get there.

Under the terms of Super League's licensing system, one of those clubs from the Championship will be given the green light to play at the top level for the next three years. Their playing records are just one of the criteria that have been taken into account in making the decision as to which one it will be.

Understandably, each of the trio believes that it has a unique selling point. Barrow, for instance, would reintroduce Super League to the hotbed of the game that is Cumbria, which has not had a club at that level since Workington in 1996.

Part of the rationale behind the Barrow application is that supporters would come from West Cumbria, 40 miles away, to watch what they regarded as the county's team – just as they did to follow a wealthy and successful Barrow in the 1950s. It's a lovely theory, but one which is likely to remain unproven.

Halifax, on the other hand, can point to several years as a viable Super League club before they imploded. The difference now is that they are securely settled at a redeveloped Shay, a perfectly adequate stadium for Super League. The only thing wrong is its location. One of the questions the panel making the decision has had to ask itself is whether Super League needs another club almost within walking distance of Huddersfield and Bradford.

Halifax have also done themselves few favours with their erratic form. They came good after a patchy season last year to win the Championship Grand Final, but at this admittedly early stage of the campaign they are rock-bottom of the table.

Mind you, none of the candidates is in what you could call prime form. Barrow sacked their high-profile coaching appointment Garry Schofield after failing miserably to reach the knockout stages of the Northern Rail Cup, while Widnes clearly have a long way to go.

On Sunday, for example, they lost 54-16 to Leigh, after leading 16-8 at half-time – not a performance that had Super League potential writ large upon it.

This, of course, is of limited relevance, because whoever gets the nod today will immediately start building a very different-looking team in time for next season.

Widnes have what their coach, Denis Betts, calls "a lot of irons in a lot of fire" and they are also strong at Academy level. All the same, they probably need to recruit more new players than they have allowed themselves to admit.

They are also close to Warrington and St Helens, but they have a number of other factors going for them. One of them is the Stobart Stadium, to which it is hard to object, given it is already staging Super League matches as Saints' temporary home.

Most of all, Widnes have given the firm impression, since they were rejected because of a previous regime's financial indiscretions in 2008, that they are in for the long haul.

They have not wallowed in victimhood; they have set about improving themselves as a club and they have put together an impressively professional application.

They have also been careful to avoid celebrating prematurely; they don't want to be like the winger who loses the ball over the try-line saluting the crowd. "We aren't taking anything for granted," says Betts, whose own experience and profile form one of Widnes's assets. "But if there's a better application, it's a very well-kept secret."

The three contenders

Widnes

History Fallen giants – known as the "Cup Kings" in the 1970s and 1980s.

Recent achievement Northern Rail Cup winners in 2007 and 2009.

Current form Mid-table after two defeats.

Strengths Solid administration, good stadium and great heritage.

Weaknesses On doorstep of existing Super League clubs. Very ordinary squad at the moment.

Best player Ben Kavanagh – gifted young forward shown the door by Wigan, but full of Super League potential.

Halifax

History Sporadic success over the years, including a flourish in the late 1980s.

Recent achievement Championship winners 2010.

Current form Bottom of Championship after two defeats.

Strengths Decent redeveloped stadium shared with football club.

Weaknesses Surrounded by Super League clubs. Wildly inconsistent on the field.

Best player Ben Black is a typical Australian half-back, with the pace to make breaks and the guile to set up others.

Barrow

History The "Millionaire" club of the 1950s with a total of five Wembley finals.

Recent achievement Championship winners 2009.

Current form Sacked their coach after failing to progress in Northern Rail Cup.

Strengths Inclusion would expand competition's reach by taking it back to Cumbria.

Weaknesses Their stadium is a long way from Super League's desired standard.

Best player Jamie Rooney's Super League chances might have gone, but he remains Barrow's class act.

For more rugby league coverage, listen to The Independent's rugby league podcast, Tryline. Click here for more details.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back