On reflection, 2016 will go down as a year to forget for Bradford Bulls.
Following their Championship Shield Final victory last week, the party line coming out of Odsal was that they had picked up silverware for the first time in ten years.
For a club spending a hefty amount of money more than all but Leigh in the Championship, finishing anything short of the top four was nothing short of an embarrassment.
However, one major positive that can be taken from an otherwise awful season is the club’s recruitment leading into 2017.
A lot of the press surrounding Bradford currently is the ongoing problems away from the field. However, on it, they are subtly making big improvements to their squad.
Plenty of change is expected at Odsal over the off-season. Lee Gaskell, Dale Ferguson and Paul Clough are expected to leave the club imminently to join Huddersfield, Jay Pitts and Adrian Purtell are joining Championship rivals London, Matty Blythe is off to Warrington and Steve Crossley has also left.
Replacing those players, especially Pitts and Ferguson, will be difficult on this year’s evidence, as will Welham if he departs. However, while the others are all high-quality players, they have had minimal input in Bradford’s season.
Gaskell and Purtell, two of Bradford’s key players in 2015, managed just 21 appearances between them this year. Their absence only added to the club’s ongoing halfback problems this season. Eventually, Bradford used around 15 halfback combinations as a result.
While their departures will be seen as a blow, the reality is that the club has already gone about replacing them.
Since Rohan Smith’s arrival at the club, the Bulls have made three major signings that give them one of, if not the best spines in the competition.
At long last, the club has a promising halfback partnership in former hero Leon Pryce and Dane Chisholm, who has been impressive since his arrival at the club.
In Kieran Moss, the former Parramatta fullback, the Bulls have been injected with some x-factor that has been so desperately lacking at times this year.
Then add Adam O’Brien to the mix, the reliable, hard-working and adventurous hooker, and the Bulls have got a strong set of players in key positions.
The additions of Jason Walton and Phil Joseph bring Super League experience while filling the void left by the likes of Pitts, too, and Alex Foster, Iliess Macani and Jon Magrin have all signed two-year contracts with the Bulls after impressive years at London.
Crucially, however, Hull Kingston Rovers’ relegation could lead to them making two major signings, in the shape of players already at the club.
Danny Addy and Australian forward Mitch Clark were both expected to sign for Rovers, however, their contracts could now be up for grabs.
Addy has been a big player for Bradford over the years, and although he hasn’t had his best season in 2016, he is still a great player at Championship level.
Should the Bulls now be able to keep Clark, who was an instant hit among the Bradford faithful following his arrival from Doncaster, that would be a huge boost to their squad.
The pack could still do with strengthening, but the Bulls will have things up their sleeve
There’s a lot of rebuilding to do at Bradford, and off-field issues continue to cause unwanted press, but on the field, but they’re in a much better position to mount a strong challenge now than they were 12 months ago.