Widnes set up a winner-takes-all showdown next Saturday against Catalans Dragons for an automatic return to Super League after dispatching the Championship side London Broncos.
The Vikings, who finished bottom of Super League after 23 rounds and were widely considered to be the team in most danger of relegation in the Qualifiers, now know that should they avoid defeat in the south of France, they will secure their place back in the top flight without the need for the Million Pound Game.
Here they were too good for the Broncos, who will now spend a fourth consecutive season in the Championship. They have earned many plaudits for the way they have applied themselves in the Qualifiers but Andrew Henderson’s side ultimately fell short.
The Broncos would certainly test the Vikings throughout but, much like their narrow defeat to Warrington earlier in the Qualifiers, left themselves with too much to do in the closing stages as the Vikings recorded their fourth win in six games.
It means that with their superior points difference over Catalans Widnes could even afford to draw in Perpignan to secure third place and consign the Dragons to the Million Pound Game – with Leigh Centurions now the confirmed opponents after London’s hopes of promotion came to an abrupt end.
Broncos started much the stronger of the sides. And after threatening the Widnes line in the early stages they took a deserved lead when Mark Ioane muscled his way across the line following a smart piece of play from Jarrod Sammut.
Sammut, the former Wakefield and Bradford pivot, was London’s most menacing influence, but it was his half-back partner, William Barthau, who was involved in a potentially decisive moment soon after that Ioane try.
With London pressing for more points, Barthau collided with the Widnes hooker, Lloyd White, who appeared to stamp on the Frenchman shortly after colliding with him. That prompted a tete-a-tete between the two pivots – but it was the Vikings who received the penalty and from it they would grow in confidence.
Twice they came close to levelling the contest through Ryan Ince and Chris Houston but both were ruled out by the video referee on referral. The hosts’ pressure would eventually tell when Matt Whitley crossed following some neat play from the Widnes captain, Joe Mellor.
That kickstarted a period of sustained pressure from the Vikings that left them in complete control by half-time. There were three more tries: White navigated his way across the line before Danny Craven capitalised on another fine pass from Mellor, then Charly Runciman scored a magnificent team try right on half-time to give Widnes a 22-6 lead which always looked to be enough.
Widnes continued to terrorise the London line after the break and when Craven scythed through for his second, with the Broncos down to 12 men following Matty Gee’s yellow card, it was clear there would be only one winner.
But London, who knew only a win would keep their promotion hopes alive, at least showed their credentials in the final half-hour. They scored two more tries, including a deserved and exceptional individual effort from Sammut, to keep the Vikings on their toes.
Kieran Dixon also crossed but Widnes always appeared to have too much for the Broncos. Widnes finished with a flourish and fittingly it was Mellor who rounded off the scoring with a superb solo effort to ensure victory, and also confidence aplenty, for Denis Betts’ side as they head across the Channel.