2021 Championship Preview: Bradford Bulls

Bradford Bulls are once again play-off contenders in the Championship in 2021.

The Bulls just missed out on a play-off spot in the last full season in 2019, finishing sixth and winning two or their four games to begin 2020 before the season was curtailed.

Now, a year on, with more big-name players added to the squad, experienced coach John Kear knows the target is the same.

“I think we’re pretty confident that we’ll be play-off contenders,” he says.

“We’ve taken that as read, because when we’re at training, you look around at the faces who are running about and handling the ball and you see there is some talent. So we feel pretty confident we’ll be challenging for play-off places.”

The players in question include some excellent acquisitions from Super League sides. Rhys Evans has returned to the Bulls from Leeds Rhinos, while Aaron Murphy has halted his long stint with the Giants to join Kear’s side.

However, without doubt, their most important signing is Danny Brough (pictured), who joins a Kear side for the third time after spells with him in Hull and Wakefield during his long career.

“I watched him when he was playing at York (in 2004),” says Kear.

“I think he kicked three 40/20s on a short ground at the old Ryedale Stadium. He had the ball on a piece of string and that’s what prompted me, at Hull at that time, to recruit him for the Hull Super League side and he paid me back almost immediately with a stellar performance in the Challenge Cup Final in 2005.

“I worked with Danny at Hull and Wakefield and this is my third time with him. I think he knows me and he knows my foibles. I know him and I know his, so I think we’re a good fit.

“I think he will add quality to the Championship. He’s a real Rugby League smart player and that’s what you need from your halfbacks at this level.

“He’s been marvellous. What he’s been is Danny Brough and that’s why I signed him. I wanted him to challenge our players, to demand a high standard and I wanted him to work hard. All of those is what he’s doing and bringing to the table.

“The other players are enjoying being in and around him and learning off him. I can’t fault the fella for his attitude and his determination and his work ethic.”

Brough hasn’t featured in the Championship since 2007, when he helped Castleford Tigers secure promotion back to Super League with a man-of-the-match performance in a 42-10 Grand Final win over Widnes Vikings. A lot has changed in the 13-and-a-half years since that match in the code’s second tier, with the depth of quality soaring.

“The quality within the Championship is first class,” Kear continued.

“You look at Newcastle, who have just signed Ukuma Ta’ai. What a great signing he is! Batley, Dewsbury and Oldham have all recruited really well. There aren’t going to be any gimmees. You’re not going to be going anywhere thinking it’s a certain two points. Every game is going to be a challenge and you’re going to have to work very hard indeed for the points.

“I think that’s what the competition needs. When Toronto were in, everybody knew, because they had a Super League team playing in the Championship, that they were going to top the league and triumph in the Grand Final if the players turned up with anything like their A-game.

“It ain’t like that this time. You could make a case for probably nine teams to qualify for that top six. Everybody is going to have to be on the ball. To achieve anything, you’ll have to turn up with your A-game.”

Bradford Bulls 2021 squad list: 1 Brandon Pickersgill, 2 Joe Brown, 3 Rhys Evans, 4 Ross Oakes, 5 Matty Dawson-Jones, 6 Danny Brough, 7 Jordan Lilley, 8 Anthony England, 9 Thomas Doyle, 10 Steve Crossley, 11 Adam Rooks, 12 Aaron Murphy, 13 Sam Hallas, 14 George Flanagan, 15 Dan Fleming, 16 Brad Gallagher, 17 Levy Nzoungou, 18 Ebon Scurr, 19 David Foggin-Johnston, 20 Brad England, 21 Elliot Wallis, 22 Reece Hamlett, 26 Matty Race, 27 Billy Jowitt, 28 Bradley Ho, 29 Cameron Berry, 30 Murphy Smith, 31 Ethan O’Hanlon, 32 Sam Smith.

Ins: Danny Brough (Wakefield Trinity), Brad England (Doncaster), Rhys Evans (Leeds Rhinos), Dan Fleming (Halifax), Reece Hamlett (Warrington Wolves), Aaron Murphy (Huddersfield Giants), Adam Rooks (Hull Kingston Rovers), Elliot Wallis (Hull Kingston Rovers)

Outs: Connor Farrell (Retired), Keelan Foster (Released), Cobi Green (Swinton Lions), Evan Hodgson (Newcastle Thunder), Liam Kirk (Oldham), Luke Littlewood (Rochdale Hornets), Rowan Milnes (Loan expiry), Vytas Vaznys (Released), Dan Waite-Pullan (Released)

Head coach: John Kear

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