Widnes Vikings handed Super League licence

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The Independent Online

Two clubs could lose their places in Super League later this year following the Rugby Football League's ruling that both Widnes and Halifax meet the minimum standards.

Barrow, as expected, failed in their Super League application but Championship rivals Widnes today got the green light to return to the top flight in 2012 after being handed the first three-year licence, while Halifax live to fight another day.

The RFL's independent board of directors, who today chose to promote Widnes, will announce the rest of the recipients of Super League licences on July 26 and Halifax could be competing with Wakefield and Castleford, the two current clubs thought to be most at risk, for places in the 14-team league.

"The commitment from the RFL was that there would be a minimum of one club elevated and it's right proper that any other club that meets the criteria has the opportunity to test itself against the existing Super League clubs," explained RFL chief executive Nigel Wood.

"At the end of the day it will be on the strength of the plans that are submitted. It will be a proper and transparent process."

While Widnes were overjoyed to get the go-ahead to return to Super League, today's announced produced mixed reactions from Halifax.

"We're just really disappointed," said director Mike Kelly. "We're happy that the Rugby League decided we meet the Super League criteria but disappointed we didn't get the nod.

"As you saw from the team's performance in last year's Grand Final, we never give up and we will keep going.

"We hope and expected that in July we will be in a winning position. We still believe in our heart that our bid is as good as many of those in Super League.

"We will take some feedback from the League to find out our weaknesses and work on them."

RFL chairman Richard Lewis, head of the five-strong decision-making body, said: "It was not an easy choice and obviously two other clubs have been left disappointed.

"But Widnes deserve it. They have done well in the last three years both on and off the field and we believe they will raise the standards of Super League."

Meanwhile, today's news was especially sweet for Widnes chairman Steve O'Connor, who has poured more than £2million into the club in an attempt to transform their fortunes over the last three and a half years.

The Vikings were overlooked when the initial set of licences were awarded in 2008, losing out to Salford and Celtic Crusaders, but have worked tirelessly to ensure this year's application would be accepted.

"This represents the culmination of three and a half years' relentless effort by the whole team," said O'Connor.

"Super League will be great for the club, the town and the fans. However, it is also a challenge and we need people to show their support.

"We have stretching targets to achieve and the management team and I are up for the challenge."

Widnes, who can look forward to crowd-pulling derbies with St Helens, Warrington and Wigan, received the congratulations of their near-neighbours.

Warrington chief executive Andy Gatcliffe said: "We are absolutely delighted for Widnes. Having been aware of the effort and detail that has gone into making this successful bid, they can only be congratulated.

"We all look forward to reinstating the local derbies and what we all know will be sell-out games."

Widnes were one of the most successful clubs throughout the 1970s and 80s.

They earned the title of "Cup Kings" after making five Wembley appearances in seven years and won back-to-back championships from 1987-89 with the help of stars like Martin Offiah and Jonathan Davies.

The 'Chemics' endured a lean spell in the late 90s, missing out when Super League was formed in 1996, but were promoted in 2002 under their newly-acquired nickname of the Vikings and enjoyed four seasons in the top flight before making way for the arrival of French club Catalan Dragons in 2005.

Widnes experienced heartache in 2008 when their licence application floundered but a Northern Rail Cup success the following year made them eligible to re-apply this year.

And the club demonstrated their ambition with the recent appointment as head coach of former Wigan and Great Britain forward Denis Betts, who succeeded former Warrington boss Paul Cullen, now their director of rugby.

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