“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.” These words were spoken by the Dalai Lama and can be appropriate for the situation Rugby League club Bradford Bulls are in. I think back to a time when I would be stood on the terraces at Odsal Stadium what would be full to the rafters and the echoes of ‘COME ON YOU BULLS’ ran throughout the historic rugby league ground. However, during the New Year, the once formidable Bulls found themselves once again in a torrid situation and were put in administration for the third time in five years after a sufficient amount of debt could not be paid. Administrators were appointed once again and the days went by with offers being reportedly rejected, it was now starting to become clear that the future of Bradford Bulls was about to become even darker. And that it was, as on the January 3 one of the most historic and successful clubs of Rugby League was liquidated.
However, it is here where the words of the Dalai Lama could take their fruition. Is the fact that the club not getting sold a wonderful stroke of luck? Is a fresh start what was needed? Many would seem to think so. Just two weeks after being liquidated, the RFL accepted a bid from New Zealand businessman Andrew Chalmers and former Wigan coach Graham Lowe to reform the Bulls and keep Rugby League in the City of Bradford. A new look backroom staff and a new look coach in former Manly Sea Eagles man Geoff Toovey, all hoping to revitalize the club and put them once again on the up.
Now, with the new ownership and coaching staff on board there seems to be some cause for optimism that finally there is someone in charge who has that Rugby knowledge. Speaking with Bradford Bulls general manger Stuart Duffy, he says that,
“These people who have come in are Rugby League people. Their intention is to make the club good”.
The rebuilding process has certainly taken affect and the intentions of seeing Bradford Bulls back in the Super League at some point in the future are clear to see. The use of the dual registration system has been something that is being used more effectively throughout Rugby League in England and the former Super League champs have followed suit. The announcement of a dual registration with Super League club Widnes Vikings, is certainly a clever business deal for the Bulls and on the back of a string of heavy defeats, there will be now the ability to now bring in potential reinforcements for a second half of the season push.
Now half way through the season with a newly reformed squad, the club have managed to reduce a deficit of -12 points to -2, only leaving them four points adrift of fellow Yorkshire club, Dewsbury. However, Duffy believes there is cause for not getting too excited just yet but thinks with the right signings and the possibility of strengthening the squad, then they could be in prime position as they get to the Championship Shield.
“You have to bear in mind when it comes to the Championship Shield there will be 14 points available there. We won’t be playing the likes of London or Hull KR, so, if we can strengthen the squad by then, I think it could be enough to get us out of the bottom two”.
Along with the dual registration with Widnes and the recent loan signings in Jordan Lilley and Mikilaj Oledski from neighbours, Leeds Rhinos, the strengthening looks underway. It seems the club is now trying to head in a forward direction. As would always have been the case once the Bulls went into administration, an exodus would commence as players would look to move on for opportunities elsewhere. However, this exodus would bring forth with it a newer generation of Bulls stars. Lifelong fan of the Bradford Bulls, Shaun Gow believes that with this younger talent coming through it is the best path to follow.
“With an average age of 21, I think we need to believe in the youngsters. It’s a great way to go. If you look at other sports, if there’s belief in the youngsters you can go far” says Shaun.
The idea of building around potential future stars is obviously something that isn’t new in sport. You look at football clubs such as, AS Monaco, who have built a team this season around some exciting new prospects in the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Thomas Lemar. A French Ligue 1 title and a Champions League semi-final later, it goes to show the effect in can have on a sports team when a bit of belief and faith is put in eager young talent. It is fair to say that throughout the first part of this season quite a few of the youngsters have certainly took upon the chance they have given and stepped up with key performances. The likes of Ross Oakes, Joe Keyes and Ethan Ryan have showed just what they can capable and grasped the opportunity by the scruff the neck, with the latter putting in some eye-catching performances and showing a great eye for the try line.
However, one problem for the Bulls this season hasn’t been on the offensive side but more on the defensive and sometimes some young blood needs an old head to be that steady influence and keep sides at bay. As way to stay grounded and be a leader for the young ones to follow. The signings of Lee Smith and Scott Moore can seemingly be the ones to fill that void, with the latter given high praise from Stuart Duffy for his recent performances.
“Scott Moore is the reason we won the games against Swinton and Toulouse. Brian Noble had saying about players like Moore, he plays with his ‘head up’. He has that steady hand and has a fantastic ability to read the game”.
It is fair to say though that the attacking displays don’t look to have been a major issue this season. It is the poor defensive sets however, which seem to overshadow what they can bring in an attacking threat and with a team full of young blood who are certainly out there to prove themselves, which is something that could happen due to inexperience. But having that presence and experience in a player like Moore can be positive aspect for the likes of young guns Ross Peltier and Mikilaj Oldezki when playing against the attacking pressure of other teams.
It is fair to say that if the Bulls were able to stay in the Championship this season, it would be an almighty achievement for the club. But let us just look at the other side of the coin just for a second. What if the Bulls were to be relegated from the Championship to League One? Would it be so bad? Well yes and no. It would certainly cement the clubs recent fall from grace even further with two relegations in four years and putting the club into completely uncharted waters. But remember one thing this is a rebuilding process. The Bulls still remain as one of the biggest franchises in English rugby league and possibly throughout the world. The attraction is still there. They are still able to attract quality up and down the country and from the likes of the NRL. They may be on the back of a string of heavy defeats, but this was never going to be a quick fix with the snap of the fingers. It was never going to be straight forward.
Following the Bull’s spirited performance in the 19-18 loss to Hull KR over the weekend, it proved there is still life there yet. Although they would succumb to a defeat, there was enough to show that the club can build on this. Seemingly inspired by the return and performance of half-back Dane Chisholm and his partnership with loan signing Jordan Lilley, both players proved to be a catalyst for such a gutsy Bulls display which saw them keep KR on their toes throughout the whole game. Chisholm’s incredible 90-metre try looked to ignite a fire in the Bulls team for the rest of the game unlike anything we’d seen from the club this season. This just goes to show that is something the club can use to build on for the rest of the season and continue to stride forward. The ability is there, it is just a question of utilizing it.
Looking to the future, there still seems to be a great sense of belief and optimism as well as a bucket load of confidence that staying in the Championship can be achieved. Dark clouds have certainly loomed over head for a while now over such a great, historic club, but with this new look setup, younger talent shining through with seasoned veterans to back them up but the potential is there. To build something new and fresh and to keep pushing forward. Even despite a ring of bad results, last weekend’s narrow loss showed there is hope for the Bulls and that is the main thing the club can take way from their courageous efforts at the Summer Bash.
But what do I know seriously…