Bradford coach John Kear insists their mouthwatering League 1 opener at York is an ideal test for his new-look Bulls side – and a firm reminder of just how tough life in the third-tier will be for the former Super League champions.
Many expect the Bulls to return to the Championship at the first attempt this year, but they have been dealt a tricky opener with a trip to face James Ford’s City Knights side.
Kear, however, admits that’s exactly the kind of game he wanted first up to give everyone a sense of reality about the toughness of the division.
“Any team that’s got some real well-established Championship players like Andy Ellis, as well as quality ex-Super League players such as Graeme Horne and Ben Cockayne, well they’re going to be a really good team,” he told TotalRL.
“I’m pleased we’re playing them first: because it will bring it home to everyone at Bradford of what a tough task this year is going to be for the club.”
A crowd of around three or four thousand is expected at Bootham Crescent on Sunday, with a large contingent of Bulls fans travelling to York for the game. And Kear wants them to treat the occasion like a home game to give the players as much of a boost as possible.
He said: “I went across to York to look at them play Hunslet and try to analyse not only their play, but the surface as well.
“The proximity of the fans to the playing area is marvellous; it reminds me very much of Castleford. It’ll be a carnival atmosphere and I’m convinced there will be as many Bulls fans as there will be York City Knights supporters. It’ll hopefully make it like a home game for our boys.”
Kear will be without the services of star half-back Dane Chisholm – an update on his fitness will be in Monday’s League Express – but the Bulls coach will be able to call on the services of Ireland scrum-half Joe Keyes, after he came through last week’s ill-tempered friendly with Keighley unscathed.
And as his halves settle into his new-look team, Kear believes the best of the Bulls will come as the year goes on.
He said: “Joe’s very important to us. I’ve been delighted with the players in pre-season, and we looked a much more rounded team against Keighley in terrible conditions – simply because we had a recognised half-back taking us around the park.
“We’ll get better as the season goes on – and that’s why we’re not forcing Dane to play ahead of when we could.”