Phil Finney Discusses Vikings Academy

Phil Finney Discusses Vikings Academy

27th October 2017

Widnes Vikings’ Academy enjoyed another successful year in 2017, maintaining its Outstanding rating and seeing four players make their first-team debuts. The Vikings Media Team caught up with Phil Finney, the Vikings’ Head of Youth Performance, who has helped guide 16 players from the Club’s youth ranks to the first team squad.

Phil shares the secrets of the Academy’s success and looks ahead to a bright future for our young stars.


Phil, how do you reflect on the achievements of the Academy system last year?

“Last season, there was a lot of adversity at first-team level and that presented opportunities to our young players. It was pleasing to see that when they had their chance, they all did really well. Some have gone on to cement their places as first-team squad players. I am sure that Denis and his staff will have confidence in all those boys going forward.

At Under 19s and Scholarship level, results could have been better, but for me, youth systems should be judged on the number of players that become first team players. On that basis, overall, it’s been a successful season.”


All those players who broke into the first team demonstrated tons of courage and enthusiasm. You must be proud of that?

“Ultimately, we want a group of players who are courageous and willing to have a go. We tell every player that we recruit to work as hard as they can, but also to enjoy their experience. There’s a shared vision that we ask everyone to buy into; our young players do that and that helps them establish themselves at first team. 

The fact that the Under 16s train together so often and the Under 19s are full time here creates a real togetherness. That extends on into the first team too, because there are also a lot of former Academy players within the first-team setup now. When a player progresses, their transition is easier because there are so many players who have trodden that path and can offer support.” 


What are some of the ingredients of the Academy’s success in creating quality players?

“One of the most important things is that we have an established and stable staff team. Most of the staff have been here for around five years and they continually reiterate the same messages – that we want the boys to do their best, so that they can to fulfil their potential. 

We know what we are looking for in players, from both a playing and personality perspective, and have found something that works for us. We have recruited a good set of lads, and that success leads all the way to the Development Squad that Roger Harrison leads, as well as the talent identification work that Dom Smith and Ryan O’Brien perform.”


Do you have aims for what you’d like the youth system to achieve over the next few years? 

“We’ve had a big goal that has been driving us since 2010, which we call 20/20. That is an aim to get 20 players in the first team squad, playing more than 20 Super League or Challenge Cup games by the year 2020. That’s the overriding goal, but beneath that is an aim to maintain our Outstanding status, give local players the opportunity to represent their hometown Club, and to progress to the highest level they can.” 


Which players coming through should supporters should be excited by?

“I’m excited by a lot of the talent within our system. The four who debuted last year, Danny Walker, Liam Walsh, Owen Farnworth and Lloyd Roby, are leading the way at the moment and I believe could be a big part of the club for the future. 

Keanan Brand is a player who I think is very close to first team rugby in the near future. His journey epitomises our philosophy for talent development. He came to us at fourteen as someone with ability, but physically was immature and therefore behind some other boys. We recognised though that he had character traits that would stand him in good stead. He has developed physically, had the opportunity to play in a number of positions, and ultimately found a place in left centre and become a very exciting player.”


Has it been satisfying seeing Academy players and graduates commit their long-term future to the Club?

“The strategy of the Club has to centre on the development of our own young talent. Parents and young players need to know that they are committing their future to a club where they will have the opportunity to play at the highest level. Our lads have been given those opportunities for the last five years, and been able to keep their place if they’ve impressed. This is a club that offers real pathway for young players, and we can be proud of that.”




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Phil Finney Discusses Vikings Academy