Widnes started the new Championship season with half a win away at Newcastle Thunder.
Surrendering a 14 point lead in the final 10 minutes, the Vikings managed to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory – which will ultimately count as half a win in the convoluted points system in place in 2021 owing to the troubles caused by COVID and travel to and from France.
Any sort of result on the road is a positive these days – Widnes have won just two regular season away games outside the north west since 2016.
As per the first two games in the Challenge Cup, Widnes fell behind to the first try – Kieran Gill running over Jake Spedding for the softest of tries down the Thunder left when it looked like Widnes were more than set man for man in the defensive line.
The two sides then exchanged a tit-for-tat sort of first half where one side would score and the other follow, with Widnes having Newcastle at arm’s length.
The decision to take a two at 16-10, bang in front of the posts, was questioned – Newcastle’s goal line defence had looked relatively weak, and rather than push for the try, Widnes took the two. I thought the penalty was the best option at that time, and hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Either way, Widnes managed to get a three score lead in place by half time, a length of the field score orchestrated and scored by Jack Owens made it 30-16.
You felt just one more score would be enough – but as it was, there was no score at all for the first half hour of the second half.
The game’s flashpoint came when the otherwise excellent Eribe Doro was sinbinned for lashing out at Nathan Wilde, who had floored him with a terrific shot.
With both sides down to 12 men, Widnes collapsed. A Matty Smith clearing kick was charged down, and a few tackles later, Newcastle crossed for the first of three tries that would draw the game level.
In the end, the visitors were thankful that the swirling wind put the touchline conversions beyond Matty Wright.
After retrieving a short kick off, Widnes marched forward for a drop goal to snatch the game – only for a disappointing pass out of dummy half to prevent the ball reaching Danny Craven, who was well positioned to give the one-pointer a go, in what turned out to be the last act of the game.
Widnes only used 16 players – Lloyd Roby remained an unused substitute – and Matt Cook was helped from the field with a lower back injury in the first half.
Warrington loanee Eribe Doro played long minutes and was the Widnes stand-out, alongside the tireless Paul Clough.
With Kenny Baker and Owen Farnworth absent, the lack of depth in Widnes’ pack was evident – especially as new signing Lee Jewitt is yet to be seen. Connor Dwyer and Logan Tomkins were also on the sidelines.
For Newcastle, their half-back pairing of Jake Shorrocks and Josh Woods created great shape for them in attack, and even with their lack of quality in some areas, they maintained their threat.
I wouldn’t expect Thunder to be competing for the top six at the end of the season – so Widnes will need to get some bodies back fast if they are to mix it with the play-off challengers.
Newcastle 30-30 Widnes, Kingston Park, 04/04/21
Widnes team: Owens, Buckley, Tyrer, Spedding, Cross, Craven, Smith, Doro, Else, Cook, Grady, Lawton, Clough. Subs: Lyons, Roby, Tilleke, Wilde.
Tries: Grady, Cook, Owens, Cross 2. Goals: Owens 5.
Man of the Match: Eribe Doro