Following his announcement as the new head coach of Widnes Vikings, we caught up with Simon Finnigan to collect his thoughts on his appointment, his feelings for the club and his coaching journey so far.
Simon Finnigan’s relationship with Widnes Vikings can be traced back to 19 years ago, almost to the day, when he arrived from Penrith in search of an opportunity at the then Super League club.
Born in England but raised in Australia, the back rower chanced his arm at a playing opportunity back on these shores and went on to enjoy a successful career at the top level.
In the club’s first Super League spell, Simon made 73 appearances and scored 21 tries, one of those scores coming in a crucial victory over Wigan Warriors in 2004 which helped fight off relegation.
The following season the Vikings couldn’t survive though, which saw the young back rower move to Salford Red Devils before spells with Bradford Bulls and Huddersfield Giants.
In 2011 Simon returned ‘home’ to feature for Widnes in the Championship, scoring nine times in 22 appearances during a season which saw the club make their Super League return after seven years away.
Coming towards the end of his career he managed to have one last crack at the top-flight with the Vikings in their first season back in Super League, finishing the year with 10 appearances, and he is already looking forward to his return to the club.
“I was talking to my wife about that first time stepping out at the stadium as head coach,” Finnigan commented following the announcement of his appointment as Widnes Vikings head coach.
“We’re not quite sure when that picture will present itself, but it will be a big moment. I class Widnes as where I am from, I basically grew up as an adult here and all my family are from Widnes, so it’ll certainly be a special day when we first get to walk out at the stadium with all the fans there.
“I don’t know when it will be but it will be a big day, not only for me but for my whole family.”
Simon’s playing career came to an end at Leigh Centurions where he eventually hung up his boots, taking up a coaching role at the club alongside Paul Rowley.
Since then his coaching career has progressed, helping Toronto Wolfpack to back-to-back League Titles in two different divisions as an assistant before taking the reins at Newcastle Thunder.
It was at Kingston Park where he took up his first head coaching role, leading the club to a Promotion Final in his first year in charge before winning five games out of five in 2020 before the season was cut short.
The last of those victories came against Championship outfit Dewsbury Rams in the Coral Challenge Cup, with Simon paying tribute to the mentors he has had as both a player and a coach.
“I have been lucky that I have played under some great coaches in my playing days, but also working under some great coaches like Paul Rowley, Brian McDermott and Brian Noble who are some really big names within the sport,” Finnigan commented.
“They are legends of the game and I have had a really good apprenticeship with them and then I have obviously spent the last year and a half working with Denis Betts. I have been blessed in that way and if you could hand-pick a bunch of coaches and people in the game to have learned from, I probably couldn’t have picked any better in terms of experience and quality.
“I am very grateful for what I have learned and what they have taught me along the way.”
Having coached in both League 1 and the Championship before arriving back at the Vikings, the club’s new head coach has prior knowledge of this level of the sport.
While he is hoping to use that knowledge to his advantage, Simon’s focus is firmly on the performances and standards of his own team.
“It always helps knowing the players and teams you’re going to come up against, but it is all well and good knowing who they are it’s what we produce and what we put on the field as a club that matters.
“As much as the knowledge is there about these teams, it is ultimately about what we can do on the field and how we perform.”
After meeting with members of the board and the club’s CEO, it is clear that the ambitions of the club and Simon fall into line ahead of his first season in charge of the first team.
The Vikings’ new head coach is looking to build on the great work already done by everyone at the club over the last year and a half, and is calling on everyone involved with the club to continue working together.
“From the moment I spoke to the board I knew their ambition matched mine,” Simon added.
“I have seen the work they have done behind the scenes and it has been tremendous. Not just the board but the fans have played a huge part in that, including everyone from within the town, they have got the club into a position where nobody thought would be possible 18 months ago. It is a credit to the board and the town to have done that.
“The future looks very bright, they have a clear vision of where we can go and I was hugely impressed with the drive and ambition of all of them.
“That spreads across the town and to the supporters, everyone has played their part in that and to have got the club back to where they are now is a fantastic achievement.
“Now is the next step to move forward and carry that work on because it wouldn’t be right if we let that down now having got to the position we are currently in. That’s part of my job, but I’m just a small part of that picture, the whole organisation, fans and town have got a part to play in that.”
A competitive squad has already been built during the last few months, with key retentions of experienced members of the group alongside a number of exciting new additions.
Already, Simon is looking forward to working with the playing squad once a return to training is upon them and has been keeping an eye on the fortunes of the club as a supporter.
“The squad on paper is a really competitive squad with a few players that have been together for a long time, having worked their way through the academy, which is always encouraging.
“The players that were here last season are all good players, I have been a fan myself and got to as many games as possible, so I have always had an eye on Widnes. The playing squad is very good, the new signings that have come in are going to add to that and it looks a really exciting squad.
“I just want to get back in and be on the training pitch, which I am sure all the boys want to do. It has been a long time coming for everyone, especially at Championship and League One level where we have not been around the sport for so long, it is so unnatural for everyone. My first focus is getting back on the training pitch and getting to know all the boys and the staff.”