Widnes Vikings 14 Wakefield Trinity Wildcats 32

Friday 3rd February 2012
Widnes Vikings 14 Wakefield Trinity Wildcats 32
Stobart Super League
At: Stobart Stadium Halton
Kick-off: 8-00 pm
Admission: £20; Programme: £3-50 (52 pages A4)
Attendance: 8120
Weather: cold, dry
Duration (40): first-half: 46:29; second-half: 47:42

Super League XVII got underway this evening in sub-zero temperatures and I saw Wakefield Trinity score 24 unanswered points during the second half to deny Widnes Vikings a winning return to the top flight with a 32-14 victory.

Since I saw Crusaders bow out of Super League last August on the final day for the 2011 regular season, there has been plenty of change in the competition. Widnes Vikings have replaced the Welsh club and returned to Super League after six seasons in the Championship. Engage are no longer title sponsors with iconic trucking giant Eddie Stobart taking over on a three-year deal. Two clubs have new grounds – St Helens and Salford City Reds – and I did hear about some rule changes as well. Specifically at Widnes’s Stobart Stadium, the grass pitch has been replaced by an artificial surface known as the i-pitch.

The stadium, previously visited for football in 2004 and rugby league last June, is all-seater with a main South Stand and away fans housed behind the posts in the West Stand. I pre-booked a seat in the North Stand (early bird price of £20 rather than the £22 full price), which like St Helens last season, has unreserved seating meaning I could sit anywhere I wanted!

Programmes, a substantial 32 page A4 publication, appeared only to be on sale inside the ground, which I found unusual. Teams were announced and pre-match entertainment involved the Widnes Vixens dance troup and a couple of songs from local former X-Factor contestant James Michael.

Widnes Vikings (in white shorts with a black V, black shorts and white socks) got the game underway attacking the far West Stand end to give possession to the Wildcats. The visitors quickly drove upfield and thought they opened the scoring in the second minute. The decision was referred ‘upstairs’ to the video referee while fans turned their heads to watch numerous replays on the big screen. The Vikings fans around me were confident that no try would be awarded and they were right – ‘NO TRY SCRUM DEFENCE’ eventually appeared on the screen.

No second opinion was needed when the Vikings soon took the lead. Danny Craven went over which the bearded Patrick Ah Van converted. Ah Van’s sponsor, Warrington Caravan Centre, got a name check over the tannoy and I’m sure with that publicity they’ll want him to keep on kicking goals! I remember St Helens doing the same last season for goalkicker Jamie Foster’s sponsor.

The Vikings enjoyed plenty of possession in the Wildcats’ half but were punished for not turning it into points as Ali Lauitiiti reduced the deficit midway through the first half. Isaac John missed the conversion to keep the score at 6-4.

After the video ref denied Viking’s a try, the home side scored a second half on the stroke of half time. An Van scored but missed a difficult conversion, so 10-4 to the Vikings at half-time.

Now attacking the end closest to my seat in the North Stand Block B, Vikings almost extended their lead only for surging Chris Dean to be stopped in his tracks by a forward pass. Soon, the visitors were level with a try by Andy Raleigh, confirmed by the video ref, and conversion from John. All square at 10-10.

The video ref was kept busy and turned down another Vikings ‘try’. However, the home side were soon cheering again as Hep Cahill’s try regained the lead but Ah Van missed the conversion. It was just what the home fans needed as the Wildcats were certainly looking a threat.

Alas, for the Vikings, the Wildcats turned their ‘threat’ into a try when Richard Mathers exploited a “massive gap” in the home defence. John put over the conversion to put Wakefield in front for the first time and they never looked back. Tim Smith and John extended the lead before Ben Cross was sinbinned with 8:47 remaining to play no further part in the game (stints in the bin last 10 minutes of playing time). The twelve men of Widnes conceded two late tries both scored by Peter Fox, the second of which was converted by John.

While I got a really good view from Row 6, most of the tries and the big screen were down at the far East Stand end furthest away from me. Of the 46 points scored, only eight were scored at my end. Never mind as, once again, I found the whole occasion of a Super League game a pleasurable and exciting experience.

4-0 Danny Craven (try)
6-0 Patrick Ah Van (conversion)
6-4 Ali Lauitiiti (try)
10-4 Patrick Ah Van (try)
10-8 Andy Raleigh (try)
10-10 Isaac John (conversion)
14-10 Hep Cahill (try)
14-14 Richard Mathers (try)
14-16 Isaac John (conversion)
14-20 Tim Smith (try)
14-22 Isaac John (conversion)
14-26 Peter Fox (try)
14-30 Peter Fox (try)
14-32 Isaac John (conversion)