Widnes Vikings to play on artificial pitch on return to Super League
WIDNES Vikings will become the first professional sports team in the UK to play on an artificial grass pitch when they re-enter Super League next year.
The club has announced the latest generation of artificial grass, known as ‘i-pitch’, will be installed at the Stobart Stadium Halton in time for the club’s pre-season training in December and will be used for all its Super League games.
The RFL will work with the club – and pitch manufacturers DESSO Sports Systems – to ensure it meets the required standards for rugby league.
The new all-weather pitch will also reduce the risk of match cancellation through frost.
Vikings chairman Steve O’Connor said: “This is a first, not just for the Vikings or rugby league but for sport as a whole. The i-pitch at Stobart Stadium Halton will modernise the game and create a fantastic matchday experience.
“Our members and visitors will be able to see more games, it will create a pathway for our young players and it will be utilised as a community resource.
“It is my vision for people to be able to stay on the grass after the game and enjoy community activities. It is absolute nonsense to have a stadium and not be able to access the pitch for 90% of the time.
“Denis Betts and the team have been training on a similar surface over the last few weeks and we have received some great feedback. We need to dispel the myth of grass burns and safety issues, technology has vastly improved in recent years and this simply does not happen.”
Mr O’Connor has also revealed the club plans to transform the pitch into a seven-a-side football sports facility throughout the week to generate extra income for the club.
Ralph Rimmer, RFL chief operating officer, said: “Not only is it a ground- breaking decision by Widnes Vikings, it is also a huge leap forward for the sport and another example of rugby league taking a first step in the history of sport in this country.
“The benefits that accompany artificial grass pitches are numerous. Not only do they provide clubs and teams with a consistent playing surface which will help reduce injury occurrence and improve player performance, due to longevity of the surface, Widnes will be able to host academy games on their main pitch prior to any Super League games without worrying about surface deterioration.
“This will encourage fans to watch the next generation of stars coming through the main ranks.”
Halton Borough Council’s executive board member for leisure and sport, Cllr Phil Harris, said: “The Stobart Stadium Halton is a community facility and we will use thisŠopportunity to offer increased use of the pitch to the local sporting community and others such as schools.ŠIt will help makeŠa positive contribution to improvingŠthe health and well-being ofŠa wide range of people.”