Bradford Bulls Head of Youth John Bastian has described the club’s liquidation as “heartbreaking” after revealing he felt the club were on the cusp of a junior development system similar to the club’s heyday in the early days of Super League: but he has stressed that he “would not hesitate” to go back and finish the job if he is given the opportunity.
The man at the heart of the production line at Odsal since his appointment at the club over two years ago, former Featherstone coach Bastian has helped produce the latest crop of exciting young talent in Bradford – some of whom began to make their mark in the first-team last season.
The likes of Ethan Ryan, Joe Lumb and Ross Oakes all appeared for the Bulls’ first-team in the latter part of 2016, before the club were liquidated earlier this week amidst growing financial uncertainty.
And, speaking for the first time since that decision, Bastian told TotalRL that he felt the Bulls’ Academy – which was graded the same as Super League clubs such as Castleford and Huddersfield in 2016 – was truly on the verge of something special.
“We were very close to recreating the kind of level of talent you were well-accustomed to seeing Bradford sides produce in the past and, talking in the present tense rather than the past, I still think we are close to that,” he said.
“We have to sit and wait and see what happens; we’re desperate to get someone in who has got a long-term plan and someone who can give us some stability and start building the Bulls towards where they should be. I truly believe we had started to regain the success Bradford had been blessed with over the years. I’m just devastated by it all.
“I’m unbelievably proud of what we achieved. I can’t speak highly enough of how we’ve progressed the Academy to start to compete with the bigger clubs, the ones which are renowned for having consistently strong setups. Clubs like Wigan, Warrington and Leeds – to start to be able to compete with them again is a credit to them.”
One of the club’s brightest young talents, Jacob Trueman – a player Bastian said “doesn’t know how good he is” – is one of several linked with moves to Super League clubs following the Bulls’ liquidation. However, despite the uncertainty over Bradford’s immediate and long-term future, Bastian is intent on returning to Odsal and helping nurture the next crop of stars through the ranks.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to go back,” he said. “I’ve had a cracking couple of years here and I’m enjoying working with everyone; from Rohan, to Leigh Beattie, to all the players.
“We’re starting to build a good reputation here and it’s something I wouldn’t hesitate in doing, going back there and finishing the job. Ultimately though, it’s down to the owners.”
A staunch advocate of youth development for years, Bastian also wants youth to be the fulcrum of whatever Bradford side start the Championship season as is planned next month.
He said: “Youth has to be at the heart of any new club that is created. The effort people put in behind the scenes is incredible, I’ve never seen anything like it. Local guys like Mark Winder and Andy Harland have done so much rebuilding the community programme and making it stronger – our junior game was making so many strides, which makes this all the more heartbreaking.
“When we do get a new owner, I really hope the Academy is part of the plan long-term – and again, I would love to be back there playing a role in it all.”