Bradford on the way back
29 November 2018 - Written by John Davidson
“Ask Toronto about how tough getting back-to-back promotions is. I think it will be very tough in the Championship.”
There’s been little to celebrate for fans of the Bradford Bulls in the past six years. Administrations, two relegations, lawsuits, a revolving door of coaches and players, and unrelenting financial uncertainty saw a fallen giant drop all the way into the third tier. But finally, in 2018, there was some relief for the Bulls.
Under veteran coach John Kear, Bradford fought its way out of League 1 and back into the Championship. Crowds started to flock back to Odsal and the club took the innovative step of live-streaming its matches. Hopes are high that finally the Bulls are back on a stable footing and can work its way towards a Super League return.
But with Toronto playing in the second division in 2019 after its Million Pound Game loss, along with relegated Widnes and the likes of Toulouse, Halifax, Featherstone, York and Leigh, the Championship will be anything but straightforward. Kear knows this and is preparing accordingly.
“I think it will be a great competition,” he told Everything Rugby League.
“Again, we finished the season  really well. We had a very young side and I thought they grew and blossomed as the season went on, I think they’ll further do so in the Championship.
“We do feel we’ve added quality in people like Matt Wildie and Connor Farrell, Jake Webster, Jy Hitchcox, Jon Margin. So the people we’ve brought in are pretty hard-nosed, elite end of the Championship players or people like Webster and Hitchcox who’ve played in Super League grand finals.
“We feel as though we’ve got a good, developing young team basis but we’ve brought in a bit of hard-nosed experience as well. I wouldn’t write anything off, but I’m not going to make silly statements that hang around your neck.
“We’ll come back, have a look and see how we’re going in January/February time. We need to have a look at each other and get a feel for each other before we set any specific targets. Obviously once we get into January we’ll have a look at that and see what we feel we can achieve.
“The application up until now in pre-season has been first-class. The new guys that we’ve brought in have settled in, so it’s a 9 out of 10 the first couple of weeks back. I’m really pleased with that.”
Bradford has kept the core of the side that lost only three out of 26 games this year and finished second behind York City Knights. There has been some high-profile signings, including Castleford pair Webster and Hitchcox, while promising youngsters such as winger Ethan Ryan and back-rower Elliot Minchella have been retained.
Kear still has his eye on more addition – another centre – to join his squad.
“We’ve kept a little money back,” he said.
“We feel we might be a centre down, but I feel we’ve got two elite Championship teams within our 30-man squad. I really do.
“We feel in a good place but if somebody came available who would improve us, we’ve keep a bit of money back for that and it doesn’t rule us out acquiring people in-season because there’s always players who aren’t getting in the side or become available unexpectedly.
“If you say no we’ve finished then you’re cutting your nose off to spite your face. We’re well on our way, we’re happy with what we’ve got but you never say never.”
Because of its history and past success, the Bulls always attract their fair share of attention and scrutiny. That will arguably never change. But, for now at least, an air of positivity and promise exists at Odsal.
Bulls’ supporters have been through hell and back but maybe, just maybe, some solace is ahead.
“The fans were fantastic [in 2018. They’ve been down, and it’s like they’ve been kicked while they’ve been down with all the mismanagement by previous regimes,” Kear admitted.
“But the guy who’s there now, I’ll tell you there’s no mismanagement now. I can tell you on the recruitment front he won’t spend money he hasn’t got, which I think it is very, very important and it’s a lesson that hasn’t previously been heeded at Bradford.
“We’re in a good shape, performance-wise, but we’re in good shape with our off-field acitivites. I think we’ve been innovative, we’ve been working really hard and maximized the resources that we’ve got.
“It really is looking really rosy for this season, but also for the mid to long-term future of Bradford as well.”