Bradford Bulls among clubs with Wembley dreams as 1895 Cup gets serious

BRADFORD fans might be dreaming of a Wembley return – but Bulls coach Eamon O’Carroll is taking it one match a time as he hopes for another growth spurt from his squad ahead of the new Championship season.

The Odsal club host Swinton in the 1895 Cup quarter-finals on Sunday, with a home semi-final against Wakefield or Barrow (who meet on Saturday) on the weekend of May 11/12 awaiting the winners.

Bradford booked their last-eight appearance with a hard-fought 26-18 derby win at Keighley, which put them top of Group Two after their earlier 40-4 victory at Dewsbury.

The 1895 Cup, for clubs outside Super League, was introduced in 2019 and has its final alongside that of the Challenge Cup, this year at Wembley on Saturday, June 8.

In the inaugural tournament five years ago, the Bulls lost 50-6 at Barrow in round two, which comprised eight ties.

The 1895 Cup had to be put on ice in 2020 due to Covid, and the knock-on effects of the pandemic meant that from 2021 to last year, it doubled up with the Challenge Cup in its early stages.

Bradford bowed out at 41-16 at Featherstone (one of eight ties) in 2021, 20-16 at home to Leigh (one of five ties) in 2022 and 26-0 at Halifax (one of four ties) last year.

The Bulls last played at Wembley in 1997, the second of successive Challenge Cup final defeats by St Helens (their final wins over Leeds in 2000 and 2003 were at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and their final defeat by St Helens  in 2001 at Twickenham).

Amid financial strife, the club’s fortunes have dipped since, but Bradford are keen to progress under the IMG grading system and former Newcastle coach O’Carroll is plotting another push for the play-offs after last season’s appearance in the semi-finals under interim coach Lee Greenwood, now his assistant.

A Wembley appearance would both raise the profile of the club and attract new support, but O’Carroll’s focus is on continuing the development of his side ahead of the big Championship opener at Wakefield on Friday, March 15.

“We’re really pleased to get to the 1895 Cup quarter-finals after a tough game against Keighley, who gave us the kind of challenge we expected,” he said.

“There were spells in which we were good, but other spells when we went away from the plan a bit, but we found a way to win, which was what mattered.

“We’re not perfect at this stage, but we’re learning as a group and trying to get better with each game.”

The Bulls’ visitors Swinton made the 1895 Cup semi-finals in 2021, losing 36-22 at York, who joined the seven group winners in this year’s quarter-finals through having the best record of a second-placed side.

Elsewhere on Sunday, York host Oldham, the sole League One survivors, while Sheffield, the first 1895 Cup winners in 2019, are at home to Batley, last year’s beaten finalists.

The winners of those ties meet in the semi-finals, with home advantage for York or Oldham.