Widnes to use artificial pitch in groundbreaking move


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The Independent Online

Widnes are to break new ground next season by playing their Super League matches on an artificial pitch. The Vikings will install the "i-pitch" – also known as 4G for fourth generation – at the Stobart Stadium this autumn and have it ready for pre-season training.

"This is a first not just for the Vikings or rugby league, but for sport," said the club's chairman, Steve O'Connor.

The pitch will be used for seven-a-side football to generate income during the week, as well as for activities after games. "It's my vision for people to be able to 'keep on the grass' after games and enjoy community and family fun activities," O'Connor said. "It's absolute nonsense to have a stadium and not be able to access the pitch for 90 per cent of the time."

Widnes, who are being promoted to Super League next season, are already training on a similar surface. The Rugby League has given the change its blessing, with its chief operating officer, Ralph Rimmer, calling it "a huge leap forward for the sport".

Although there was a rash of unpopular artificial pitches at football clubs such as Preston and QPR in the 1980s, the new generation of pitches is regarded as a different proposition.

Widnes are the first professional club to adopt it, but the technology has been tried out at lower levels of the game, with a number of representative matches being played on the 4G pitch at Leigh Easts when conventional surfaces have been unfit over the last two winters.

Meanwhile, Salford have unveiled Sean Long as a new member of their coaching staff under Matt Parish. The former Test scrum-half announced his retirement as a player earlier this week after two injury-ruined seasons at Hull.

Bradford have signed Shaun Ainscough for another year, even though he has managed just nine games in his first season with them. Shad Royston is leaving at the end of his first season to join the French club, Pia.

Michael Lawrence has committed himself to Huddersfield by signing a five-year contract extension.