It has taken Joe Mellor a little longer than he might have preferred to establish himself as a key man in the First Utility Super League, but now it is the Widnes Vikings who are reaping the benefit.
The Warrington-born half-back has been outstanding in the two wins with which Widnes have started the new season.
His coach, Denis Betts, described him as “the best player on the field by a mile,” in the eye-catching victory over last year’s League Leaders, the Huddersfield Giants, last weekend.
“I thought I did well and it’s nice when people say things like that about you, but really it was more of a team effort,” said Mellor, who will again be at the helm for the
Vikings against the Salford Red Devils at the Select Security Stadium on Thursday night.
The big difference, compared with the side that beat Huddersfield, is that Betts expects to have his captain, Kevin Brown, back from injury to partner Mellor in the halves.
“I suppose I had to take on some extra responsibility, but really the way our forwards played made it easy for me,” Mellor said of managing without Brown against the Giants.
He is particularly relishing playing alongside the battle-hardened second-rower, Danny Tickle, who was signed from Hull FC this winter.
“It’s good to have someone with his experience looking after me down my side of the field,” he says of the former Wigan back-row forward, who along with another Danny – the former Canterbury Bulldogs second-rower, Danny Galea – has given the Widnes pack a more workmanlike look this year.
Mellor was earmarked for great things when he joined Wigan from his amateur club, Latchford Albion, as a teenager.
No sooner had he made his mark at first-team level, however, than his progress was rudely interrupted by serious injury. He fractured his shoulder blade and was ruled out for nine months.
“By the time I came back, they had so many good players that they didn’t need me any more. I knew that, if I was going to play, I was going to have to move on,” he recalls.
His first move took him on loan to the London Broncos, followed by a role closer to home with Widnes, at first on loan and later on a permanent deal.
With the Vikings, he is part of a long-term plan to improve the team and its performances gradually, as opposed to trying to take a huge leap forward, like Salford.
“It’s going to be a weird one against them, because you don’t really know who you’re going to be playing,” he says.
One thing he does know is that he will not be facing last year’s Viking team-mate, Gareth Hock, who injured an ankle in the Red Devils’ 38-0 defeat by St Helens and is expected to be out for up to two months.
“He’s a big loss for them, because he’s the sort of player who gets you moving forward,” Mellor says.
Nor is he likely to be up against Rangi Chase, who is still nursing the leg injury he suffered in Salford’s unlucky start to the season.
Widnes also won their last three matches last season and the longer they keep on winning, the more realistic their ambition of making the play-offs will look.
“And if we do that, anything can happen,” Mellor says.
Tickets for the Thursday Thriller, Widnes Vikings vs Salford Red Devils at the Select Security Stadium on March 6, kick-off 8pm start at £20 for adults and are available now by clicking here or calling 0151 495 2250