It was a routine pre-season victory for Widnes over Batley to celebrate Danny Craven’s testimonial.

The Bulldogs were the surprise package of the Championship last season and humbled Widnes twice in 2021, including a rather embarrassing day at Mount Pleasant.

They came to Widnes with a strong team and also off the back of having played a pre-season game against Bradford last week.

After a few back and forth sets, Widnes controlled the first quarter of the game and enjoyed lots of territory.

The first try came through Jack Owens, running from the back on the left hand side and then new number two Ollie Brookes added a second try.

Both goals were missed, and Batley came back in to the game – making some cheap metres up the middle and eventually scoring on a run play on the last tackle, some soft tackling enabling George Senior to touch down.

Batley had a try chalked off for offside before Craven marked his testimonial with a typically cheeky dummy to carve open the defence for 14-8 at half time.

Widnes rang the changes in the second half, including Craven heading to the sidelines, but maintained their control of the game.

Jonny Campbell did do well to score in the left corner to drag Batley back within two, but tries from Ryan Ince and Sam Wilde ensured a comfortable afternoon, despite a late Batley score.

First look at new signings

Simon Finnigan utilised no fewer than 20 of his 26-man squad, which meant a first look at several of his new signings.

The returning Sam Wilde and Olly Davies impressed in the back-row, with Davies certainly showing enough to suggest that he could revert to the middle if needed, as hinted by Finnigan in the recent podcast.

Aaron Brown played for the first half hour or so and looks to have a touch of class about him, and will provide an interesting dynamic and possible rotation with Kenny Baker at 13.

Others like Matty Fozard, Liam Bent and Brad Holroyd got minutes in their legs, but it was new prop Tyler Dupree who generated the warmest applause from the home faithful.

A strong first hit up was greeted with plenty of cheer on a freezing afternoon at the DCBL Stadium and with worries about props still circulating among the faithful, Dupree has potential to turn in to a crowd favourite.

Improved fitness

An issue, in my eyes at least, in the early parts of last season was an apparent lack of fitness.

That seems a stark contrast to this year, where Bob Beswick’s impact in his role as head of strength and conditioning was plainly evident even in this first pre-season hit out.

Players looked fresh, trim and hungry to get in to action. With pre-season training having been going since the end of October, Widnes should be as well prepared as possible for the season opener at London.

Widnes Vikings 24 Batley Bulldogs 18

Widnes: Owens, Ince, Fleming, Edge, Brookes, Craven, Smith, Baker, Fozard, Farnworth, Wilde, Davies, Brown. Subs: Bent, Dupree, Holyrod, Hulme, Lyons, Roby, Tilleke.

Tries: Owens, Brookes, Craven, Ince, Wilde. Goals: Owens, Edge