Trio back for Vikings
Widnes Vikings are boosted by the return of three captains for the visit of Salford Red Devils tomorrow as they bid to maintain their perfect start to the 2014 First Utility Super League.
Skipper Jon Clarke, whose last Super League match was in August, will return to lead the side after recovering from back trouble, along with stand-off Kevin Brown, who captained them in their opening match before sitting out last week's win over Huddersfield Giants with a calf strain.
Vikings coach Denis Betts has also included Dave Allen in his 19-man squad - the experienced forward has led the team in the past but is yet to make an appearance so far this season - and makes no apology for changing a winning team.
"It's about what's best for the squad," Betts said. "It's a big boost to us.
"It was good we were able to put such a strong performance in last week with both our captain and vice-captain missing, two prominent players for us over the last two years, but this makes us better."
The clash of the teams who have each picked up the wooden spoon in the last two years takes on special significance given the lofty ambitions of clubs who are aiming to reach the top in contrasting fashion.
Salford, under wealthy owner Marwan Koukash, want to get there straight away after splashing the cash on 14 new signings, although they received something of a reality check with last week's 38-0 home defeat by St Helens.
Widnes, obvious beneficiaries of the licensing system, have already made their best ever start to a Super League campaign - an end-of-season flourish in 2013 means they are on a five-match winning run - and a win by 25 points tomorrow would take them above leaders Saints on points difference.
But their progress has been steady rather than spectacular, with Betts insisting that last Friday's win over Huddersfield was no fluke.
"We knew we were capable of those kind of performances because of the way we've trained in pre-season and we started to see the fruits of our labours towards the end of last year," he said.
"I know we ended up a little bit lower down the table than we could have if we had picked up a couple more wins but to beat Saints at Saints and beat Warrington twice, they are pretty significant milestones for the club.
"Since then we've added two or three quality players to that group in Danny Tickle, Danny Galea and Paul Johnson and now we can add Paul Clough into that as well. We knew we had a group with real good character and a great work ethic."
While the Vikings are able to call on reinforcements, the Red Devils have lost their second high-profile recruit to injury, with second rower Gareth Hock joining his England team-mate Rangi Chase on the sidelines after sustaining ankle-ligament damage against St Helens.
Centre Francis Meli also misses the trip to Widnes but Salford coach Brian Noble hopes to plug the gaps with the return of Junior Sa'u and Steve Rapira and he has also added Adam Walne and Jason Walton to his squad.
Koukash has pledged there will be no repeat of last week's thrashing and Betts is anticipating a reaction from Noble's men.
"There's going to be a bit of a kick-back to what happened and what's been said about them," Betts said. "I know that because I've been there myself.
"When we've had a poor performance, we've usually reacted as a group and come out and put in a really good performance. They've got too much quality in their side not to have a reaction."