The rugby league season is well underway and bar a first game blip, Bradford Bulls have had a very encouraging start to their 2015 Kingstone Press Championship campaign.
New players, new opposition, new stadiums, a new style and level of rugby.
Whilst relegation to the Kingstone Press Championship could be viewed by some fans as a ‘disaster’, in many a team sport I’ve seen it time and again that dropping down a division can help a club re-invent and re-invigorate itself. That is what Bulls have been doing since the first hooter sounded on the new season.
Some players left but some key personnel stayed committed to the cause including 2014 player of the season, stand-off Lee Gaskell, and loose forward Danny Addy who was coveted by some Super League clubs. The team was also strengthened with a number of joining in the latter part of last year.
A New Work Ethic
A pre-season that was shortened by bad weather saw Bulls play on familiar territory. Perennial Super League heavy weights and Challenge Cup champions Leeds Rhinos were the opposition in a derby match at Headingley as were surprise 2014 play-off team, Castleford Tigers at The Jungle.
Both games ended in defeat with Bulls scoring 14 points in each encounter but there were signs that in his first full season head coach Jimmy Lowes will be installing a new work ethic that should see success.
The season couldn’t begin with a tougher encounter than away to Leigh Centurions, last year’s Kingstone Press Champions who only lost one league game all season and are strongly fancied to contend for the title again.
A fiery encounter in front of a record 7,449 at Leigh Sports Village saw Bulls take a 20-6 half time lead. But discipline, in the form of three sin binnings, and a great fightback from Leigh saw well over 2,000 plus Bulls fans go home very disappointed with a 36-24 defeat after such a great start.
The next three games saw Bulls score a total of 130 points, conceding just 14, in comfortable wins against Whitehaven and Hunslet at home and what was probably the performance of the season so far, away to last year’s runners-up, Featherstone Rovers.
Then came a highly entertaining game at Batley Bulldogs against vastly experienced coach Joan Kear and also against the notorious slope at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium! Bulldogs put in a great second half performance to frustrate the men from the Provident Stadium and their huge away following. However, Lowes’ men dug deep and Danny Williams touched down with four minutes to go with Ryan Shaw converting brilliantly from wide out to snatch victory. Final score, 26-19.
Workington then came to town two weeks in a row, first in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup with Bulls winning easily 74-6 after a tight first 20 minutes. Not every player was firing on all cylinders and Workington put in a good shift in muddy conditions for the second clash, a 36-6 league win for the home team.
April has been, and will continue to be another fascinating month of action. A Challenge Cup home tie against Super League’s Hull KR on 19th April is sandwiched by several Yorkshire derbies, the first of which was against Halifax on Good Friday.
The biggest attendance of the season so far at the Provident Stadium saw a first half performance by Bulls, which Head Coach Jimmy Lowes called ‘rubbish’, lead to a 13-2 deficit at the break. Lowes had clearly made his feelings known in the dressing room as Bulls came out scoring three tries inside the first ten minutes of the second period and securing a 32-19 victory on the back of Ryan Shaw’s 16-point haul.
Superior fitness and quality told again in the final 20 minutes away to Dewsbury on Easter Monday with two late Danny Addy tries securing the win after Dewsbury had fought hard to keep it close. The recurring theme with these road games is that Bulls’ away support is helping to set attendance records for every Kingstone Press Championship stadium they visit!
London Broncos, also relegated from Super League last year, were dispatched 28-2 with an impressive defensive display overcoming two early injuries, horrible conditions and numerous handling errors. I get this feeling that when we finally get some sun at home games we might see the real Bulls on offence as well!
As long as the men in red, amber and black maintain a top four spot they will enter the Super 8s in August; top two would be ideal as they then get four home games instead of three in the new play-off system (see my previous blog here which explains the new structure of rugby league).
Provident Still ‘Supporting Bulls Supporters’
We don’t need to talk too much about what’s going on off the pitch at the Provident Stadium as the Club is in safe hands under the stewardship of owner Marc Green and his new backroom staff.
For us here at provident we’re not letting up in our ‘Supporting Bulls Supporters’ activities. There’ll be more of the same from last year, including match day activities and giveaways, online competitions and exclusive content on our Facebook page, not to mention some exciting new opportunities for fans to experience game day in ways they haven’t been able to do before.
We’re also working with the Bradford Bulls foundation to support grass roots and disability rugby league, community initiatives and fundraising for charity.
We’ll report back to you on all of this next time round.