Highs and Lowes: Where now for Bradford Bulls?

On July 20, 2003, Bradford Bulls thumped Widnes Vikings 40-8 in front of over 12,000 people at Odsal. It was a year in which the club would win every domestic honour possible – the Challenge Cup, League Leader’s Shield and Super League Grand Final.

A few months after that, the club completed a clean sweep of club honours by winning their second World Club Challenge (they would win a third in 2006). But, exactly 11 years to the day since they hammered the Vikings, the Bulls suffered the ignominy of life outside the top tier for the first time in over 40 years by losing to Huddersfield 56-26.

So often the market leaders in the early days of Super League, multiple administrations combined with poor results on the field have seen the Bulls gradually go on a steady decline, which culminated in the confirmation they would be playing in the Championship next year after a heavy defeat against the Giants. So the question must be asked – where now for the Bradford Bulls?

This article originally appeared in Rugby League World magazine. Click here to download the latest digital issue to your computer, smartphone or tablet

Well, despite dropping out of Super League at the end of the season, plans are already being put in place for life in the Championship next year. Chairman Marc Green has repeatedly told fans he is in it for the long haul, calming any fears that he may have walked away when relegation was rubber-stamped.


Robbie Hunter-Paul – the man who captained the club to much of its success during their Super League heyday – is now chief executive of the club. He told Rugby League World he is supremely optimistic of the future of the club with Green in charge – saying that with the Londoner at the helm, the club is in the best shape it has been in for years.

“Throughout my time here the club is now in the best shape it’s ever been in,” Hunter-Paul said. “We’ve got a chairman who is extremely passionate about the Bulls; cut him in half, and he’ll bleed red, amber and black.

“It’s probably not exciting for the supporters, but for us who are involved in the club on a day-to-day basis, it’s perhaps the most exciting thing that we’ve got good, solid ownership.

“It’s so much more advanced here with Marc; when I came into the business last July it was just a complete mess. There were people working too hard without any direction – everyone was pulling in different ways. There were poor lines of responsibility, and since Marc came in we’ve started to overhaul everything.”

The Bulls will witness first hand just how testing the new league restructure will be next season, facing an almighty battle to get into Super League once again for the 2016 season. And although Hunter-Paul admits it will probably be tougher than a conventional one-up, one-down system, he is confident the club, coaching staff and players can pull together to bounce back at the first attempt.

“In reality only time will tell, but from looking at it I’d say it’s going to be tougher to get up. It’s not about throwing money at it anymore and beating the teams around you – it’s about beating Super League clubs, too.

“But as we’ve seen from the likes of Leigh and Featherstone in the past, if you’ve got the correct systems then you will be successful. We’re not going down to the Championship with a mediocre squad, we’re going down to the division with Super League players.

Bulls down the line

“We believe we’ve a coach who has superior methods and systems to everyone else, and that’s what gives me such confidence. Our eyes our only fixed on those top four positions in the Championship.

“A lot of the Championship clubs knew where they would be and moved quickly to sign up a lot of their talent. Luckily for us Bradford is a big brand, and if there’s a club that will have the commercial support – and the fan support – to fire back into Super League then it’ll be the Bulls. This is a club full of fighters once again – just like it was right at the beginning of Super League.

“The potential – and that’s a key word – is what makes Bradford a big proposition to many people.”

The coach Hunter-Paul referred to is of course, another Bradford legend. Eyebrows were raised when the club chose to part ways with highly-respected boss Francis Cummins earlier in the season, but with James Lowes at the helm, Bulls fans truly have one of their own leading the onslaught on the Championship in 2015.

He told Rugby League World that he shares Green’s long-term vision for the club, and Bulls fans should be excited by the fact that they have a chairman who is so intent on delivering success once again.

“You need stability off the field to be a success, and once you get that you stop worrying about things like whether you’re going to get paid,” Lowes said. “Marc’s brought a good team in and is planning to run this club as a business – which is massively helpful for us on the field.

“He understands the situation, and understands where we are as a club right now. He’s not short-sighted, he’s got a big vision and some impressive long-term views. We’re going to have a real go at achieving those goals of his in the coming years.

“I’m here fully committed for this long-term plan Marc has laid out and put into place. I would have taken the job even if relegation had been confirmed – I couldn’t turn it down no matter what had happened in the weeks and months prior to that.”


Hunter-Paul admitted he knew from day one that Lowes was the right man for the job – as well as revealing chairman Green is keen on getting the lease back to Odsal, after it was purchased by the RFL during one of the Bulls’ several financial crises over the last few years.

“In the process of finding a new head coach, I took myself out of the conversations with Jimmy because he’s a mate – but I knew he would own the position from day one. We had some really strong applicants, but when Jimmy came in we all knew he was the man for the job. He’s still got that rod of steel that runs through his spine; it’ll be his way or no way at all.

“Marc’s moved to try and have complete ownership of the club, and he wants to do that with the ground. The governing body did the club a great favour a few years ago to help the club out, but now Marc sees it as a really good bargaining chip moving forward as a business, and as a club. There’s an appetite to renew the ownership of the ground.

“My confidence for the future of this club lies in the fact that where we were weak, we’re now very strong. Under Marc and Jimmy the club is moving forward to where it should be.”

This article originally appeared in Rugby League World magazine. Click here to download the latest digital issue to your computer, smartphone or tablet

Both Lowes and Hunter-Paul also singled out the infamous Bradford academy as a key area for the club to improve on if they are to get back to the lofty heights they once experienced. In the past, the club has produced international players such as Stuart Fielden, Jamie Peacock and Sam Burgess – but all left the club for differing reasons.

“Bradford has the number one academy at Yorkshire at this moment in time, and I’d like to see that move into the top three in the country in the coming years – if not the top one,” Hunter-Paul said.

“We had an amazing conveyor belt of talent come out of this club over recent years, and that’s really high on my agenda, to get that development of players going once again. We need to keep hold of that number one academy in Yorkshire mantra, and move towards being the best in the country.”

Lowes added: “Hopefully we’re going to recreate that Bradford academy in the coming months and years.

“We’re not going to lose our academy next year; it will stay Super League standard and it will be even stronger next year in the Championship.
“Bradford had a great system in the past and produced some world class players. We want to go back to showing the youngsters the proper route through and having a strong academy. Strong academies lead to strong clubs, and getting the steady stream of Bradford lads coming through the ranks is something I’m very keen on.”


Hunter-Paul also rounded off an intriguing and revealing chat about the club’s future by insisting the facilities at Odsal give them an advantage over a “good portion” of clubs in Super League, and believes that there is every reason to be optimistic over the future – both on and off the field.
“This fantastic arena we have has got its own business units such as the conference and banqueting suite and the stadium bowl as a venue for hire.

“A good portion of Super League clubs don’t have the benefit of these facilities, but we do. All of our conferencing is under the control of the Bradford Bulls; we’ve rebuilt it all in a way that becomes profitable and sustainable for this club.

“There have been new teams put in place to drive the club forward; we’ve built a new retail store which has seen turnover and footfall that has outstripped everything we did last year. There are solid business foundations now in place, and having worked with all the board members for a good period of time I’m fully confident we’re heading very much in the right direction.

“Marc has got such a vast network of contacts, and there are so many things they want to bring into the business. Both Marc and Jane Green have big plans for this place, and it’s something we’re all massively excited to be a part of.”