WIDNES Vikings have been given the green light to return to Super League after becoming the first club to be handed a three-year licence for 2012-14.
The Vikings, who were relegated from the top flight in 2005, got the nod ahead of Championship rivals Halifax and Barrow when the Rugby Football League’s board of directors made their announcement at the game’s Red Hall headquarters on the outskirts of Leeds.
The news will be especially sweet for Widnes chairman Steve O’Connor, who has poured more than £2million into the club in an attempt to transform their fortunes over the last three and a half years.
The Vikings were overlooked when the initial set of licences were awarded in 2008, losing out to Salford and Celtic Crusaders, but have worked tirelessly to ensure this year’s application would be accepted.
"Today is the culmination of a lot of work over the last three years but the job is not done, it only starts now," said O’Connor, who has ambitious plans to make the club a force once again.
RFL chairman Richard Lewis revealed that both Widnes and Halifax had met the minimum criteria to be granted a Super League licence.
But the league opted for the Vikings, who Lewis praised for the work they had done in recent years to ensure their successful bid.
"After careful consideration it has been determined that Widnes will be granted the new Super League licence," Lewis said.
"On behalf of the RFL and the Super League I would like to congratulate them.
"They’ve made significant strides in the past three years and this is reward for that effort.
"It was a tough decision, but we believe the club will raise standards of the Super League.
"It was not an easy choice and obviously two other clubs have been left disappointed.
"But Widnes deserve it, they have done well in the last three years both on and off the field.
"They are very well poised to come into Super League and make a success of it."
Lewis revealed that the door was also still open for Halifax to be granted a licence after they also met the criteria.
A decision on whether they will be included ahead of any of the current Super League franchises will be announced in July.
"Halifax now go onto the next stage - they remain in the mix," he added on Sky Sports News.
"They will be compared against other Super League clubs when that decision is made in July.
"Halifax live to fight another day. It is a tough competition to get into and Halifax know that."
Lewis also praised the bid from Barrow Raiders, despite the Cumbrian club failing to meet the criteria.
"I think Barrow have quite rightly put their name forward," he added.
"They qualified to do so by winning the Championship a few years ago. Their bid shows they are ambitious.
"They’ve put marker down that they want to grow and I respect that and I am sure their fans will too."
Widnes, who can look forward to crowd-pulling derbies with St Helens, Warrington and Wigan, were one of the most successful clubs throughout the Seventies and Eighties.
They earned the title of ’Cup Kings’ after making five Wembley appearances in seven years and won back-to-back championships from 1987-89 with the help of stars like Martin Offiah and Jonathan Davies.
The Chemics endured a lean spell in the late Nineties, missing out when Super League was formed in 1996 but were promoted in 2002 under their newly-acquired nickname of the Vikings and enjoyed four seasons in the top flight before making way for the arrival of French club Catalan Dragons in 2005.
Widnes experienced heartache in 2008 when their licence application floundered but a Northern Rail Cup success the following year made them eligible to re-apply this year.
And the club demonstrated their ambition with the recent appointment as head coach of former Wigan and Great Britain forward Denis Betts, who succeeded former Warrington boss Paul Cullen who became director of rugby.