Widnes have been given a Grade B ranking in IMG’s ‘dummy run’ of the new criteria that will determine who plays in Super League from 2025.
The Vikings scored 10.17 points out of a possible 20 across the five pillars assessed – on-field performance, fandom, finances, stadium and community.
That score ranks Widnes in 16th out of the 35 professional clubs, below Featherstone, Bradford and Toulouse, but above York, Halifax and Super League newboys London Broncos.
Indicative Club Gradings have been announced pic.twitter.com/1H2jp2gaHi
— Rugby Football League (@TheRFL) October 25, 2023
Based on the scores announced, the 12 Super League teams would be: Leeds, Wigan, St Helens, Catalans, Warrington, Hull KR, Hull FC, Salford, Huddersfield, Toulouse, Wakefield and Leigh.
There are seven Grade A licenses handed out, which guarantees a club a place in the top flight, with the rest made up of the highest ranked Grade B teams.
The grading scores will be reviewed and published each year, meaning there will be changes to the ranking before it ultimately decides what division teams are in come 2025.
What does the score mean for Widnes?
Although it will be hard to accurately determine until either the RFL or clubs (as Hunslet have done) publish the breakdown of their scores, in my opinion the score reflects a solid financial position for Widnes.
Given the disappointing on-field performances of recent years would have the club ranked around 21st in the pyramid, the score will have been lifted by the size of the fanbase, but also by the finance section.
That may come as a surprise to some, as financial worries are often cited when people are commenting about the team’s performance, but the reality is that the new ownership has ran a tight ship since taking over after administration, keeping up to date with bills, paying on time and ultimately keeping the club in a safe position.
The club also boasts solid community work, including the LDSL, women’s and now wheelchair team.
How have the club reacted to the score?
There has now been a brief official statement on the club’s website, with Head of Operations Chris Hamilton also adding a post on LinkedIn.
He said: “The list of RFL/IMG gradings has just been published and the Vikings have been ranked 16th out of all of the professional clubs.
“With a B grade and a score of 10.17 we know what we need to do to improve this and everybody at the club is looking forward to knuckling down and working hard to improve on all aspects.
“With pre season almost upon us, a lot of work has already been done to get things in place and that work continues apace.”
What is likely to change for Widnes before the real grading takes place next year?
A significant room for improvement is on the pitch. If Widnes are to ever make Super League again, they will need to win the Championship to gain the performance points from doing so (no arguments from me, there).
There are some concerns over what hole the demise of VIQI has left in the finances, it may well be that helped contribute to a solid financial score, but time will tell.
The club must work to keep attendances up though, with some worries over a possible drop off going in to 2024 due to a so-far uninspiring recruitment drive, to keep satisfying the fandom criteria.
Where will Widnes end up?
In reality, whatever structure or format the powers that be come up with, the top six or seven clubs will always be there or thereabouts (Hull KR a fine example to everyone else in how to get up there).
Widnes will ultimately be in that middle category of clubs – the lower Super League and top half Championship clubs – all fighting to be good enough to get a place in the top flight.
Based on the published scores, it looks like Bradford, Toulouse and Wakefield are seen as the top three non-Super League clubs and they have a bit of a cushion over Featherstone and Widnes, who are the next best.
The challenge for Widnes is to keep pushing on to the coat tails of Bradford and beyond, rather than falling towards those beneath them.
But for now, the message to me couldn’t be simpler from a Widnes point of view – the Vikings need to do much better on the pitch.