The Self-Isolation Chronicles: Bradford Bulls

1. They once relied on a team of volunteers to beat London Broncos.

Naturally, in a weird and wonderful list of Bradford Bulls stories, a financial crisis would feature somewhere. In July 2012 Bradford were up against London Broncos in a Super League, just days after head coach Mick Potter and the rest of his staff were made redundant. The players were also working for nothing and hoped that, in solidarity, their appearance might help them through the latest financial issue and take them up to sixth in the league. Among those who featured were future England quartet John Bateman, Elliot Whitehead, Luke Gale and Tom Burgess. Liquidation loomed for the Bulls, just a day later, unless they could be financially saved. On the field, the Bulls romped to a 44-12 win over the hapless Broncos, as their army of volunteers rallied to help the club through their existential problems. Potter continued in an unpaid capacity, while payments to players became unstructured. That was until 31st August, that year, when a bid from local businessman Omar Khan was ratified by the RFL to clear their debts and overriding problems. As we all know to well, however, this wouldn’t be the last chapter in the financial thriller-come-tragedy that we all know as the Bradford Bulls.

2. Jamie Peacock stayed on the bus because he wasn’t brave enough to join Bradford.

As a young 19-year-old Bradford triallist, Rugby League legend Jamie Peacock MBE admitted he froze and didn’t get off the bus to go and showcase his abilities. The former Hull KR football manager was, by his own admission, daunted at the prospect of training alongside some of the Bulls’ seasoned internationals at their height of ‘Bull Mania’ era. Scouts have flocked to his local Stanningley club and offered a late blooming Peacock a trial to have one last crack at the professional game. But while riding the 508 bus from his Bramley home to Odsal, he couldn’t make the leap of faith. Instead, he waiting for the bus to terminate in Halifax and then use a pay phone to call his father, Darryl, and explain his predicament. His father then had to fabricate a story to get another trial, which Peacock attended for gruelling thirteen weeks, and have the second crack at Super League stardom. As we all know, Peacock achieved just that. ‘Get off the bus’ became a career mantra for the former Bradford and Leeds stalwart, while he later played a Memorial Game in memory of his recently deceased father at Stanningley.

3. Robbie Hunter-Paul’s last coach in Rugby League was Richard Silverwood.

You read that right. In 2015, Super League legend Robbie Hunter-Paul came out of retirement to play for his nearest team, Mirfield Stags. Former Bradford Bulls media manager and Rugby League World sub-editor Ryan Sparks, who was a resident of the Yorkshire town, had recently formed the club. He used his contact book to entice Super League referee to coach the outfit, who also played in a Star Trek-themed away kit in memory of Mirfield-born actor Patrick Stewart. Ex-Kiwi international Hunter-Paul and former England half-back Francis Maloney were drafted in by Sparks to partner in the halves, as the amateur outfit made shockwaves in their early years. Remarkably, Silverwood still coaches the club.

4. They loaned two future internationals to a semi-professional rugby union side.

In 2002, Bradford Bulls unveiled plans to take-over struggling National League One rugby union side, Wakefield RFC. They were set to become the second tenants of the redeveloped Odsal, the following year, and plans were afoot to embark on a cross-code investment similar to Leeds Rhinos with Yorkshire Carnegie and formerly with Wigan Warriors’ involvement with Orrell RUFC. Bulls chairman Chris Caisley had made serious noise about the proposed takeover, with Wakefield MP David Hinchliffe going public with fears that this could result in the Bull switching codes themselves. The move never eventuated, however, but the Bulls did send a few players on loan. Youngsters Alex Wilkinson and Nicky Johnson were the first to feature for the rugby union club, before the Bulls sent two future internationals to turn out in the other code. Seasoned halfback and Great Britain international Paul Sykes would feature once for the club, while England international and current actor Rob Parker would make seven outings.

5. They played Rugby League one day and then rugby union the next.

The Bulls did actually cross codes in 2002, albeit for 24 hours. On August 16th, the Bulls were hammered 50-22 by St Helens, in what would be a dress rehearsal for the Grand Final, but Bradford didn’t rest up. Instead, they chose to become the second Ruby League side to play in the Middlesex Sevens after Wigan Warriors in 1996 and all but 24 hours later. What’s more, they rocked Twickenham with a 24-5 win over Leeds Tykes in the first round, before Hunter-Paul helped Bradford to a 42-12 win over Gloucester, featuring his brother and Bulls legend Henry Paul. In the next round they faced the British Army side, clawing to a 31-5 win, before seeing off rugby union heavyweights Wasps in the final with an emphatic 42-12 victory. The likes of Tevita Vaikona, Lesley Vainikolo, Leon Pryce, Michael Withers and Robbie Hunter-Paul were among the players to feature in back-to-back games and in both codes, while Wakefield RFC trio Mark Sowerby (himself a former England Sevens captain), Jon Feeley and Jon Skurr also helped them.