Thursday, 9 February 2017

Sunday's Coming: Bradford Bulls

“The collapse of Bradford Northern RLFC in December 1963 sent shock waves throughout rugby league in Great Britain. Northern were the first team to appear in three successive Wembley Cup finals, from 1947 to 1949, and were top of the league at the start of the 1954–55 season. However, by December 1963, this once proud club had sunk to the bottom of the league table and withdrew from the competition in mid-season. It was the first time since the 1920s that a team had pulled out of the league without completing their fixtures. Their membership of the Rugby Football League was terminated and that season’s record was expunged. No club in the game’s history had fallen from the heights quite like the old Northern…”

‘Come on Northern - The fall and rise of Bradford Northern RLFC 1954 to 1965’: Trevor Delaney, 2012.

Hornets travel to Bradford on Sunday to partake in the latest act in Rugby League’s longest and, frankly, least interesting soap-opera.

The club entered administration for the third time in four years back in in November before spectacularly tanking on the 3rd of January following a protracted sinking of Titanic proportions.

Former Super League darlings Bradford Bulls’ not only left a trail of devastation in their wake, they inspired an outpouring of chest-beating grief usually reserved for the death of a North Korean leader.

Amongst protestations that Bradford was a club too big to die and that Rugby League NEEDS a strong Bradford Bulls, the pantomime unfolding at Odsal - the administrator hawking for bids, deadlines being moved, arguments over the lease on the ground, failed bidders champing at the bid to slag off the process, players jumping ship, a 12-point penalty, RFL press conferences trumpeting “the least worst option’ as a successfull conclusion, new high-profile Kiwi owners , the despicable sacking of Rohan Smith and the appointment of Geoff Toovey as the ‘coach who’s not allowed to coach’ - sucked every last drop of oxygen out of the Championship pre-season coverage.

Indeed, Bulls owners Andrew Chalmers’ and Graham Lowe’s decision to appoint former Manly coach Toovey to steer the club away from the Championship drop-zone was - depending on your view - a move of genius or barking madness.

Having been in the country for a fortnight Toovey is not allowed to take an active role until his visa is processed - and that certainly won’t be by Sunday: Bradford’s first game back at Odsal since their rise from the dead (expect a fevered outpouring of emotion).

Whilst Toovey will be presented to the crowd before the match, he will be leaving coaching duties to former academy coach Leigh Beattie, who has overseen Bradford's three defeats this year at Huddersfield and Keighley and Hull KR.

With a squad made-up primarily of academy players, Leeds fringe loanees and a few old stagers (and an average age of just over 21), The Bradford Telegraph and Argus is already describing Sunday’s game as ‘crucial’. Indeed -  if a bit of mental arithmatic is your thing - Hornets’ win and Bradford’s defeat last weekend leaves the Bulls having to win eight more games than us this season to finish above us. A win at Odsal on Sunday would leave them having to win NINE games more than us to finish above us.

Speaking in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus after the 54-24 defeat at Hull KR, Beattie said: “We got a little bit giddy at the start when we went ahead but it didn’t last too long. We’ll get back on the training field this week – there’s plenty to work on so we’ll go through the video.

“There’ll be some tired blokes in our squad after that so we’ll fix them up first, and then we’ll go again. We’re a little off with our pre-season, so Hull KR looked slicker than us obviously, but with that effort and a bit more work we won’t be far off.”

And, when asked about Hornets’ thumping 46-0 routing of Dewsbury Rams, he  said: “Good – that’s more of a challenge for us, so bring it on.”  We're sure he won’t be disappointed.

Bradford lined up last week as follows:
14 Oscar Thomas
2 Ethan Ryan
3 James Mendeika
4 Ross Oakes
5 Iliess Macani
6 Leon Pryce (c)
28 Jordan Lilley (Leeds Rhinos Loan)
8 Liam Kirk
9 Joe Lumb
17 Ross Peltier
11 Colton Roche
20 James Bentley
21 Brandon Wilkinson

15 Jon Magrin
31 Mikolaj Oledzki (Leeds Rhinos Loan)
29 Sam Hallas (Leeds Rhinos Loan)
30 Josh Jordan-Roberts (Leeds Rhinos Loan)

The pairing of 36 year-old Leon Price and Rhinos wunderkinder Jordan Lilley at half-back makes for an interesting afternoon. And starting prop is Ross Peltier - who last played against Hornets for Keighley when we thumped them at Spotland.

Hunapo-Nofoa: delighted to be leaving the World tig-&-pass
league for the comforts of Odsal
The latest spike of madness to emanate from the Odsal crater is the breaking news that the Bulls have beaten ‘several NRL clubs’ to the signature of Samoan rugby *nion 7s player Phoenix Hunapo-Nofoa (no - us neither).

Hi-stepping, showboating 7’s ‘utility back’ (isn’t every player in *nion 7s a ‘utility back’?) Hunapo-Nofoa was one of the early targets for Bulls’ non-coach Toovey. Needless to say, how a nippy lad used to acres of space against *nion defences would fare against getting hit at full-tilt by Trigger whilst negotiating a ball dropping out of the drizzle of Northern spring sky is open to question.

According to, whether he will sign/arrive in time for Sunday’s game remains ‘unclear’.  Which we translate as ‘he won’t’. We/he can only hope the new Bulls away kit comes with brown shorts.

As Alan Kilshaw astutely pointed out this week, Sunday will be a day of high emotion, adrenalin and expectation as the re-animated Bulls return to their spiritual home. Hornets will need cool heads if they’re not to get sucked into the occasion.

Certainly Sunday is a big one for all concerned. And - for the first time ever - we can say: Championship leaders Rochdale Hornets go to relegation-haunted Bradford Bulls in search of the win. So get yourself over to Odsal - the tenuous plan mooted on Facebook is for fans to gather on the terrace behind the dug-outs - get together and let’s make some noise. Let’s face it - this is our party too.