Widnes suffered a fourth consecutive defeat at Newcastle on Monday night.
Just 25 points have been scored in their last four away games.
So where are things going wrong? I take a look at five things to ponder.
Is the captaincy a burden for Jack Owens?
The return of captain Jack Owens has not had the revitalising effect some would have hoped.
Lloyd Roby, arguably the form player of the first few rounds, can count himself very unfortunate to have lost his place in the team.
While on paper, having hometown boy Owens playing at full-back being the skipper looks like a perfect fit, the reality has been different.
Owens has always been dependable under the high ball and a willing runner through the middle. However, at Newcastle, he dropped a couple of kicks, had a hand in a few other errors and twice had to concede tackles having overrun the play out wide.
He has cut a frustrated figure, pointing and waving players in to place, and his gestures towards the touchjudge gifted Gideon Boafo the opportunity to run what should have been try in the corner under the sticks.
In the previous match against York, Owens was caught out defending in the line which enabled the Knights to score with a simple kick over the top.
There’s no doubt Owens takes his leadership duties seriously, but perhaps it’s becoming a burden that is distracting from his game in a key position.
Maybe a temporary switch of the captaincy to Steve Tyrer would enable Owens to find his best form, because currently, the form of Roby suggests that Owens doesn’t even deserve a place in the 17, let alone the armband.
Lawton puts down at Newcastle last night.
— Widnes Vikings (@WidnesRL) April 5, 2022
Support for Fozard
After Widnes’ struggles at dummy half last season, the signing of Matty Fozard looked like a key one in the early rounds of the season.
A steady, committed and durable number nine, he played a pivotal role in the four wins.
But teams have already caught wind of him being an 80-minute hooker, and are really starting to target him.
With no recognised hooker on the bench most weeks, teams know that Widnes are reliant on him throughout and are running over him more and more.
It leaves him tired in spells, and showed when Joe Shorrocks handed him off through the middle in the second half.
Having an interchange hooker is fairly commonplace in the modern game, and Lewis Hulme has proven a more than able option at Championship level.
Craven a bigger miss than first thought
When Danny Craven appeared to pull up in the late stages of the first half at Halifax, the worst was feared.
Indeed, it was a shock when he emerged for the second half. His kicking game played a key part in the narrow 9-8 win at The Shay.
He hasn’t been seen on the pitch since, amidst rumours that his injury could be a long-term one.
His absence has left the Widnes attack flat and devoid of ideas, and his in-hand kicking game has been a big miss too.
Widnes have a 100% record with Craven in the team, and a 0% record without him. While it’s not the only issue, his play in both defence and attack has been greatly missed, perhaps more than first thought.
Monday night woes
Widnes have now played four of their last five games on Monday nights, live on Premier Sports. Three of those four have ended in defeat.
Being selected for TV coverage is just one of those things.
However, it’s been exacerbated by the early exit from the cup. Widnes started the season with six games in successive weeks, but have since had weeks off between their last two games, with another weekend off coming up.
In the first few weeks, they looked fit and raring to go after pre-season – whereas they’ve looked jaded in their last few outings.
The impact of the Monday night switch on the schedule shouldn’t be understated – instead of training on a Tuesday and Thursday night, with captain’s run on a Saturday for a game on Sunday, that gets thrown out by weeks off and Monday night games.
It’s no excuse, but perhaps the squad haven’t adapted to it as best as they could – understandable, given it’s new to the Championship this season.
It will be interesting to see whether form picks up when a more settled week in, week out fixture list returns.
The pack isn’t the problem
There have been critics of the Widnes forward pack in recent weeks, but at Newcastle, the pack did its job.
Eribe Doro has been unfortunate with both his sin-binnings in recent weeks, though needs to be careful of his discipline.
The new additions of Danny Addy and Jack Wells, more than likely set to be temporary and maybe even one-offs, were welcome, and the line-up didn’t include Tyler Dupree, Shane Grady and Aaron Brown.
Monday night proved that even when a pack can go toe-to-toe with its opponents, or even get the better of it, there are wider issues afoot.