I’m really not sure what to make of Bradford
But a few seasons ago, they were winning trophies left, right and centre, even becoming the first team to ever win the Grand Final from 3rd place. Nowadays, their fans would probably be pleased with a 3rd place finish, never mind a Grand Final.Perhaps even more gallingly for the Bulls, the pre-eminent side in Super League has become their bitter Yorkshire rivals, the Leeds Rhinos.
Bradford are a side in transition – the problem is we don’t know what they are transitioning to. One the one hand, they’re still a side possessing a wealth of talent, particularly in the forwards. On the other, their back-line is clearly not as strong as it was in the Vainikolo-Hape glory days, and I’m not sure how much teams will fear the thought of Bradofrd spreading it wide.
Part of the problem is that Bradford seem to have developed a policy of bringing in players who over-achieved at smaller clubs, only to find their impact limited on the stage that the Bullls put them on. In this regard, the signings of Michael Worrincy and Ricky Sheriffe are to type. However, this season Bradford have also decided to bring in some big names in Steve Menzies and Greg Bird. Both have associated risks; Menzies is one of the best second-rowers of his generation, but he’s getting on a bit, and as for Bird… well, the Bulls will hope he’s got his head in the game.
Bradford should definitely be in the playoffs, and you would think they would be challenging for a top-four spot and a home berth in the first round, but they just seem to be lacking the firepower to challenge for the title. I think I can see a run to the semi-finals of the playoffs, and maybe a decent Cup run as well (which I suspect might be Bradford’s best chance of a trophy this year).
Pros: Still one of the biggest names in Super League, the Bulls should have a competitive pack this year, on top of which they have brought in some players of real quality in Steve Menzies and Greg Bird. The duo brought in from Harlequins (Ricky Sheriffe and Michael Worrincy) have really come on over the last few seasons, and will be hoping to take their game to the next level at the Bulls.
Cons: This will now be the fourth season without a trophy if the Bulls fail to bring the silverware this year, in which time they have been clearly deposed by Leeds as the pre-eminent side in Yorkshire. There still doesn’t appear to be much of a cutting edge in the backs.
Coach: Steve McNamara’s under a bit of pressure. In many ways he’s still in the shadow of both Brian Noble and also Wigan’s comeback in the play-offs two seasons ago, until which it had been going fairly well for McNamara. If Bradford don’t deliver big time, don’t be too sure that McNamara and Bradford maintain their partnership…
Captain: Paul Deacon, one of the few remaining remnants of the Bulls’ glory run.
Key Man: Deacon gets a lot of stick due to his, um, limited running game, but his passing is more than adequate and he might just have the best kicking game in Super League. It’s no coincidence that the Bulls chances really started faltering when he got injured.
Young ‘un: Considering he’s only 20, Sam Burgess has an awful lot of expectations on his shoulders. Having missed the World Cup he should be fit and raring to lead the Bradford pack to its former glories.
Wild Card: More than any other team, Bradford’s new personnel seem likely to go either Win or Bust. Michael Worrincy and Ricky Sheriffe looked a bit meh until Brian McDermott gave them new life, so will they thrive away from his guidance. Steve Menzies is obviously a quality player, but he’s also getting on a bit. Perhaps most precariously of all, will Greg Bird get his act together? Because if he does, Bradford will benefit enormously.
Gains: Steve Menzies, Nick Scruton, Rikki Sheriffe, Michael Worrincy, Greg Bird
An interesting selection of incoming players. It’s a relatively young group of players coming, with the obvious exception being Menzies.
Losses: Shontayne Hape, Iestyn Harris, Joe Vagana, James Evans, Simon Finnigan, Matt James, Chris Feather, Keale Carlile
It’s basically the end of the classic Bradford back-line, with the departure of Harris and Hape. Bradford have lost a few of their key bit-part players, but not so many of their major contributors (Hape’s production has been severely reduced by injury in the last year or so).