Widnes have agreed a dual-registration partnership with Super League club Warrington to bolster the Vikings squad for the 2024 season.
It follows a similar agreement that was abandoned during the COVID pandemic, that saw the likes of Jake Mamo, Dec Patton and Leilani Latu turn out for Widnes in the early part of 2020 before the season was curtailed.
Since then, dual-registration has been ignored, with former coach John Kear thought not to be a fan of the concept.
On the announcement, Vikings coach Allan Coleman said: “I’m really excited with the dual-registration, if you look through their squad, they’ve got some quality players and if they’re fully fit, we’re going to be offered exceptional players.
“The club had spoken to a number of other teams and obviously chose to go with Warrington which is fantastic for us.
“There are a lot of similar characteristics between the two clubs. Both clubs have got new coaches, obviously with Sam’s arrival there and I’m a new arrival at Widnes. We’ve also both brought new players in, so I think we mirror each other really well.
“We feel as though the strength in depth they have will be massive to us but it’s not just about players it’s about learning from each other.”
So what players from Warrington could be turning out for Widnes?
Leon Hayes, Scrum Half
The 19-year-old half-back has moved up in the pecking order at the Halliwell Jones Stadium following the departure of Riley Dean, and is thought to be highly-rated by the club. Josh Drinkwater has something to prove after a disappointing year last year, and some fans are already calling for Hayes to get a shot at first team.
He has three first team appearances under his belt for Warrington, including a start in the home defeat to St Helens back in September. The recent arrival of Sam Powell at Wigan, as well as the presence of Stefan Ratchford in the squad, means the Wolves do have some utility half-back options to partner star man George Williams.
Hayes played eight times for League 1 club North Wales Crusaders in 2023, appearing in the play-off final defeat to Doncaster.
In some ways, a link with Warrington last season may have benefited Widnes and Hayes, with first choice scrum half Tom Gilmore getting injured in the very first game of the season.
With only Joe Lyons and Gilmore as recognised half-backs in Coleman’s squad for 2024, it is likely a Warrington half-back will get at least some game time at Widnes.
Gil Dudson, Prop
While Coleman has been vocal about not wanting to sign 30-something players dropping out of Super League, if Wales international Dudson becomes a possibility on dual-registration, Widnes would be silly to pass it up.
The former Salford, Catalans and Vikings forward, who was part of the team relegated from Super League in 2018, has been linked with an exit from Warrington over the off-season as he starts to look at his future career beyond rugby.
He is thought to have held conversations with Championship clubs, though reaching a suitable agreement to depart has proved difficult. If he isn’t going to be a regular part of Sam Burgess’ 17, then he would be a very useful option.
Luke Thomas, Prop
Another obvious fit for Widnes last season would have been prop Luke Thomas, who played for Wales under John Kear.
He went on to make three appearances for Warrington, and also turned out for Hull KR and Swinton.
A young prop that has been compared to James Graham, perhaps unfortunately in terms of putting pressure on him early in his career, Thomas will want to get minutes under his belt in 2024.
He was named 18th man on three further occasions for the Wolves last season, and is a strong, old fashioned running prop.
Adam Holroyd, Back-row
Thought to be the most likely fit for Widnes, Warrington are keen to get Holroyd out to the Championship for the season.
The 19-year-old was previously in Widnes’ scholarship system via Halton Farnworth Hornets, before moving to Warrington when the club entered administration. A former Yorkshire academy captain, Holroyd has played seven times for Warrington.
A strong runner and tackler, Holroyd is an 80-minute forward.
Zac Bardsley-Rowe, Centre
A new name to the Warrington first team squad in 2024 is centre Zac Bardsley-Rowe, who has been handed the number 35 shirt by Sam Burgess.
Bardsley-Rowe came from the Salford City Roosters community and has had a ‘fantastic’ development over the past two years, representing Lancashire at academy level.
Described as a strong and powerful athlete, with Widnes only having a handful of options in the centres, there may be room for him to get some professional experience at the Vikings.
What do you make of the dual-registration announcement, and what players would you like to see at Widnes in 2024?