James Lowes has been back at Bradford Bulls for only a month but he experienced the pain of relegation as much as anyone involved with the club.
The former Great Britain hooker knew the Bulls’ fate was likely decided long before he took up the challenge of restoring their fortunes but confirmation of their drop into the Kingstone Press Championship still hit him hard.
“It’s sad,” Lowes said. “What people will remember about the Bradford Bulls is relegation, administration and trouble. That’s not what the club is about though; it’s got a far greater history going back to the Bradford Northern days.”
Lowes was at the heart of Bradford’s heady days in Super League, when they were crowned champions four times in the first 10 years and also won both the Challenge Cup and World Club Challenge.
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Crowds of 15,000 regularly turned up at Odsal to witness Bull-mania and, although they have dipped to a third of that level during their recent struggles, Lowes believes that latent support can be the key to bringing back the good times.
“It’s been a great place to play rugby through the years,” he said. “The fans took the concept on massively and it’s a huge turnaround. There’s still 4,000 or 5,000 people there though who will stick with us through thick and thin.
“Hopefully that will see us in a position to get back up to the top division at some point. Odsal’s a vast stadium – seeing 5,000 at Wakefield or Castleford looks really healthy – and so to see so few people there is strange.”
The Championship will have an unfamiliar look to it in 2015 and not only because of the radical new structure, which Lowes believes will provide a quick way back for his club.
The presence of Bradford and London Broncos, who finished first and second in Super League in 1997, will increase the profile of the second tier and make for a highly-competitive division, with the likes of Leigh, Featherstone and Halifax all pushing for the coveted top-four spots.
Lowes knows the Bulls must build from the bottom but can see a way back for the once-proud club.
“Occasionally clubs will go through cycles – Leeds Rhinos went through one and they produced some youth and have got back to the top – and unfortunately we’re at the bottom of that cycle,” he added.
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“We’ve got to rebuild and start again from the bottom. We’ve got to get the club back to where it was at the start of Super League and it won’t be easy. We’ll have to roll our sleeves up but we’re all determined to do that.
“How the league is set up for next year offers you an easier route back up there. Having four slots and four chances gives you much more of an opportunity.”