Widnes Vikings went into the 2018 season with very few giving them any chance of reaching the top eight. In fact, most in the Rugby League fraternity predicted the Vikings to once more end up with the wooden spoon at the end of the Super League season. But, a round one thrashing of bottom side Catalans Dragons demonstrated just how different the Widnes team of 2018 would be to that of 2017; Widnes, a team that was severely blighted by injuries in 2017, would no longer be the whipping boys of the top flight.

Overcoming adversity

Widnes Vikings endured a rather horrendous 2017.

The Cheshire side finished bottom of the Super League with just five wins from 23 games and were ranked favourites to be relegated from the top flight. Yet, the club pulled through a torrid injury list to secure their Super League status in relatively straightforward fashion.

At one stage last season, Widnes were without 12 first-team players, but a number of young stars helped the club get through the tough times. The likes of Danny Walker, Ed Chamberlain, Jordan Johnstone, Jay and Ted Chapelhow and Ryan Ince were all given a shot in what were increasingly desperate circumstances for the club. But, these youngsters - most of whom are in their early 20s with the exception of teenager Walker - proved pivotal in securing Widnes' Super League status.

Consequently, the experience that these youngsters gained in 2017 has been a driving force behind the Vikings' much-improved form in 2018.

Opening rounds

Critics may highlight the fact that Widnes have just two wins from five so far. But, their losses to Castleford in round two and Warrington in round four were by no means heavy defeats.

The Vikings went down by a mere drop goal at the Mend-a-Hose Jungle, and were only defeated 10-18 by Warrington. Even though Widnes' 32-16 defeat to Wigan in round five may appear comprehensive, the Vikings were actually winning 4-16 at half-time and Wigan had to claw their way back into the game against a very stubborn opposition.

And, whilst Wigan had a week off in the build-up to the clash, Widnes had just five days rest with the Vikings' fatigue evident towards the back end of the game.

It is also the manner in which Widnes have performed in the opening five rounds that is impressive. Young half-backs Joe Mellor and Tom Gilmore have linked up seamlessly with the evergreen Rhys Hanbury a delight to watch chiming into the line. Meanwhile, Irish winger Ed Chamberlain - who performed admirably for the Wolfhounds in the 2017 World Cup - dynamic hooker Danny Walker and twin forwards Ted and Jay Chapelhow have picked up where they left off in 2017. Even new signing Krisnan Inu appears to have left his inconsistency behind in France with five tries in four games, whilst another new recruit Wellington Albert is quickly becoming a fans' favourite at the club.

Bright future

Widnes have already played last year's Grand Finalists as well as two sides looking to reach the top four this year and have hardly been embarrassed. In fact, it is the Vikings what have caused embarrassment for two of the sides they have played. 40-12 and 23-6 wins over Catalans and Leeds respectively - although Leeds' loss came after the World Club Challenge - are proof that this Widnes side is determined to defy the odds in 2018.

Widnes have taken the experience from last year's adversity and used it to ensure that they will not be in the same position come the end of 2018. If their opening performances are anything to go by, the Vikings will certainly shock a few more Super League sides before the season ends.

And, if they can escape a lengthy injury list similar to 2017, Widnes could even be a rank outsider to finish in the top eight - a prediction which only the staunchest of Widnes supporters believed could happen before the season began in February.