James Rule Gives In-depth Interview

James Rule Gives In-depth Interview widnesvikings.co.uk
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20th January 2018

The Vikings Media Team caught up with CEO, James Rule, for an in-depth interview ahead of the Super League season. James took the time to share his views on all the big news – from the heartaches of tragic recent events, through to the highs of impressive pre-season preparations and new signings. The CEO also affirms that with the continued backing of supporters, the Vikings could yet welcome more exciting names to the team…

“This year feels different. There’s a palpable sense of anticipation and determination from the players and coaches. We want to right the wrongs of last year and I think we’re going to shock a few people”, he says.

It’s clear from the first question that the Vikings CEO feels a genuine sense of optimism for the season ahead.

“Our belief is well rooted. In all areas, we’ve looked to refresh, refine and improve what we do. There’s a fresh coaching team, who are bringing a new approach to training and forging a real team-spirit. I have the pleasure of seeing the boys in training from my stadium office window, and it’s so apparent that the players are working hard and loving what they do.

Supporters will have seen this too, in how sharp they have been in the pre-season friendlies. The players are fitter, faster and stronger, and they’re all facing real competition for places. In the best possible sense, I want Denis to have to have selection headaches and he’s certainly got that.”

That competition for places has not only been created by the quartet of arrivals, in Krisnan Inu, Sam Wilde, Stanton Albert and Wellington Albert, but also the Vikings home-grown talent who are ready to grab their starting spots.

“The silver lining to last year’s adversity is that our young players were given the opportunity to gain invaluable experience. They’ve shown their capabilities, and now that they’ve had a taste of first-team action, they’re not looking to take a backwards step. We’ve got a number of players whose development has been accelerated and now have every reason to want Super League action.”

“These players are the future of our Club and, much to the disappointment of our rivals, they’ve committed to the Vikings for the seasons ahead. They’re going to be making a big impact this year and in years to come.”

James takes a moment to reel off the competition for places across the pitch.

“At hooker, Denis has Aaron Heremaia, Lloyd White, Jordan Johnstone and Danny Walker to choose from, and you can make a case for each to start. At fullback, we’ve got the talents of Rhys Hanbury, Danny Craven and Olly Ashall. The front row is another hot-bed, with Gil Dudson, Alex Gerrard, Greg Burke, the Chapelhow twins and now also the Albert brothers. I could go on, right across the team.”

In a competitive market-place, James is pleased with the four new additions who have helped bolster the team.

“Each of the players we’ve signed has the capabilities to improve what we do. Sam shone on loan, and we were keen to make his move permanent. Krisnan’s career speaks for itself, and with his game-changing abilities he’s one of our highest profile signings in years.”

“And then of course there’s the Albert brothers. I actually spent some time calling Stronghold Members at the end of last year, to thank them for renewing or to encourage them to stay with us for 2018. In many phone calls, people talked about wanting us to sign big, intimidating forwards and we’ve certainly done that! Anyone who saw them at the World Cup will know they’re tough, powerful and don’t take a backwards step – people will love watching them.”

When asked about the potential for further signing, James reveals that the Club is actively seeking further talent and will be making moves if more people commit to backing the team in 2018.

“All the money that this club makes – whether that’s in Stronghold sales, tickets or sponsorship – is invested straight back into the club and particularly in strengthening the team. Everyone in our back-office teams works tirelessly to bring in income that sustains this club and helps us to progress.

Whilst obviously some players have moved on from last year, a large proportion of those savings have been utilised to reward and retain our most talented young players. We’ve got several players who have proved that they’re Super League ready or can be stars of the future, and naturally an important strategic focus had to be securing them for seasons ahead”, he explains.

“We’ve also been able to recruit some of our primary transfer targets. I’m excited by the players we’ve signed and the attributes that they bring to the team. We’ve been aggressive and brave with our recruitment and retention strategy, in terms of our current business realities. We’ve had some big successes with new commercial deals - like the Beat The Scrum programme, the new stadium deal with Halton Council, which offers greater sustainability and new revenue streams, and forming thriving partnerships – but there are difficult challenges too.”

“There’s one key area where we need to progress further, and that’s encouraging renewals from our lapsed 2017 Stronghold Members. Their continuing support would help take the plans for the season ahead to new levels, creating the opportunity to bring in more quality to the team.”

The potential impact of those supporters is evident, as James breaks-down the relevance of Membership to the on-field success of the club.

“We’ve been delighted to have more than 250 new people sign up Stronghold Membership this year, and of course we’re exceptionally grateful to the many people who have renewed for 2018 too. However, there’s nearly 600 people who are yet to commit again for 2018 and that’s created a significant shortfall in income. The impact that can be made by this valued group of supporters can’t be understated – their renewed investment could help bring in another top-quality signing. We’ve got some strong lines of enquiry with some highly-rated potential targets, but as it stands committing to securing their services is challenging without the income from the non renewals.”

“People will have different reasons for not renewing yet – some have had changes of personal circumstances, some will be waiting until after Christmas, and some might unfortunately be weighing things up after a tough season last year. We hope that those who are able to, ultimately choose to stay with us on the journey, because this club has an exciting future. We can only realise that potential together though.”

“We’ve kept Membership as affordable as possible and developed new ways to provide greater value to our Members, such as discounted family packages. We want to make our game accessible to enable the community to get behind the team.”

Sadly, whilst the club could be welcoming further signings, the Vikings have had to face the devastating reality that one special man will not be wearing the famous black and white shirt this year.

“The passing of Kato Ottio is one of the most difficult things that I have faced in my career. We believed that Kato had the potential to achieve brilliant things and become a real star. I’d been really touched by his humility and excitement at joining our club in our correspondence, and thought that he would go on to become a hero here. To learn that he had passed away in the most tragic of circumstances was beyond comprehension.”

“At moments like this, you have to try and create meaning in the face of senseless tragedy. I’m incredibly proud of how our staff, players and supporters all pulled together to pay tribute to Kato and make a lasting difference to the loved ones that he leaves behind. It’s moments like this that demonstrate how incredible this club is and the power of what we can do together.”

When asked for a final message for supporters, James chose to share one of gratitude.

“Whatever role you play in this Club, whether that’s cheering us on in the stands, volunteering or providing sponsorship, you play a huge role in our ongoing success and we can only thank you. There’s so much potential at Widnes Vikings and we want to do our local community proud. If you’ve signed up for 2018, your investment is incredibly valued. If you’re yet to sign up for 2018 Stronghold Membership, please stay with us, because together exciting things lie ahead.”

“This can be a big season for us, and there’s lots to look forward to beyond that too. You make our club both what it is and what it can be – thank you.”  

 

With the backing of supporters signing up for Stronghold Membership, Widnes Vikings are striving to continue to recruit. If you haven’t signed up for 2018 yet, you are encouraged to do so soon, to make your contribution to the Vikings transfer budget. 

Membership has been held at the 2017 early-bird prices. Not only will you receive the best value Membership ever and a host of exclusive Member benefits, you will also be making a real investment into the growth of the Vikings in 2018. 

To sign up, visit the Vikings Superstore, Tesco Extra, or call 0151 495 2250 (option 2). 

Click here for full information on 2018 Viking Stronghold Membership packages, as well as the full suite of Member benefits.

Vikings Superstore Opening Hours:

  • Monday:              9am - 5pm
  • Tuesday:              11am - 7pm
  • Wednesday:         11am - 7pm
  • Thursday:            11am - 7pm 
  • Friday:                 11am - 7pm 
  • Saturday:             9am - 5pm
  • Sunday:               11am - 5pm 
James Rule Gives In-depth Interview widnesvikings.co.uk