Widnes hosted a Members Monday event at the Cookhouse earlier this week.
This was the first event possible for more than a year due to the pandemic, tying in to the new regime’s promise to regularly engage with the club’s fans.
There was a decent turnout and the room was packed. The BBC’s Steve Roberts hosted the event, with Phil Finney and Simon Finnigan the men on the stage.
Club chairman Chris Price was in attendance, as was recently promoted Sean Hayes and the club’s new media recruit Tom Clarke.
Here are some notes on the main discussion points of the evening.
The headline news of the night was the signing of Sam Wilde, who is returning to the club on a two-year deal from the 2022 season. The former Warrington youngster was part of the 2018 side that was relegated from Super League, though became a fans favourite in 2019 before leaving for Newcastle via the Ottawa Aces shambles.
No other specific names were mentioned, though both Phil Finney and Simon Finnigan stated that they were close to finalising their recruitment for 2022.
Finney intimated that there was a little fall out with Warrington over their handling of Eribe Doro and Ellis Robson’s loan deals. Robson was recalled and immediately went to Bradford, while Doro was recalled shortly before being handed a ban by the RFL for breaching rules on betting.
There was an acknowledgement that recruitment decisions for 2021 have clearly not paid off, and that there will be a change of approach moving forward – looking around the leagues for players with points to prove, rather than recruiting ageing Super League players (interestingly York, who did that more than most ahead of 2021, are going the same way).
The future of Deon Cross was mentioned, and while Finney stopped short of saying a deal with Salford is done for the winger, he did confirm that there was a Super League release clause in Cross’ contract that was negotiated by his agent last year.
In the opening address, Finney broached some of the subjects over the past few years; notably the recovery from administration and scrapping the academy.
He expressed concerns that there were less than 200 junior season ticket holders, and that a priority of the club is to get more youngsters engaged with rugby league – whether that be through participating in schools or local clubs, or watching games.
The strength of the club moving forward has to be its importance in the community, and ensuring that is doing its bit to improve physical health and wellbeing.
The academy is slated to cost the best part of £500,000 a year, and as has previously been stated, there was simply no confidence that the funding levels would remain as promised – especially as Widnes had funding withdrawn post-admin in 2019.
Connected to that, Finney also said that the club must protect itself and look after itself in spite of the RFL and Sky Sports – so not be reliant on central funding, broadcast deals or the competition structure to exist and progress.
Finney said “what’s going at the moment isn’t good enough”, but that everyone at the club cares and is working hard to put things right. There are a lot of Widnesians at the club who have the best of the club at heart.
There is no short term fix to addressing the problem, and recruitment for 2022 is almost done despite having no news on central funding.
Logan Tomkins may not play again due to the foot injury he has. A fan asked why the club can’t just pay him (and Lee Jewitt) off, to which Finney responded that the club wants to do right for players. It wouldn’t be the right thing to do to discard players, and it hardly paints a good picture of the club in terms of recruiting players moving forward.
Finnigan was pragmatic about the performances on the field, and disagreed with a fan who (bizarrely) said that the goal line defence was fine and that actually the problem was the line not moving up quick enough.
There were some questions about referees, which were largely pointless, and Finnigan responded by saying he wouldn’t publicly criticise a referee because it’s a hard job. He says he speaks to the RFL regularly to provide feedback, and did so particularly after the home defeat to London where he felt we didn’t get the rub of the green.
Though there was nothing groundbreaking to come out of the evening, it was both timely and assured. All questions asked were answered, and clearly there is work being done behind the scenes to move the club forward, in spite of the predictable hysteria that surrounds every defeat at the moment.
Simon Finnigan fronted up the day after a bad defeat at York and didn’t shirk responsibility for that.
With rugby league in a mess overall, it’s going to be a case of planting some seeds which won’t necessarily provide instant results, but will stand the club in good stead moving forward.