SUPER LEAGUE X1 BRADFORD BULLS Bulls' Jamie Langley tells John Ledger the Super League grand final winners are aware of the strength of the opposition awaiting them this year. AS a veteran of two Super League grand finals, Jamie Langley knows all about the rigours of playing the toughest, most physically demanding team sport in the world.
He has seen both sides of the coin; the abject misery of losing to Leeds at Old Trafford two years ago and the elation of exacting sweet revenge over the Rhinos 12 months later, experiences he coolly took in his stride.
His status as an integral part of Super League's most celebrated team has not gone to his head – although there were worrying signs it might have when he sported a perm which made him look like Bruno, the piano player from the TV series Fame – not that it was likely to, given the 22-year-old's rugby league pedigree.
His father John enjoyed considerable success as a three-quarter with Leeds in the
Seventies and Langley junior has been groomed for great things since his junior days at Normanton, an amateur club with a proud reputation for servicing the professional game.
"Dad has been great, I couldn't have asked any more from him," says Langley.
"He's never pushed me, he knew how difficult it was for me being known as 'John Langley's lad', but he was always there when I needed him. He still is."
The game is much changed from the days when Langley Snr plied his trade with Leeds and Dewsbury and the young Bull has come to represent the archetypal modern rugby league player: tall, rangy, athletic, powerful and quick.
His ideal position is loose forward, but last year, when Bradford were ravaged by injury, he filled the breach at centre and did not look out of place in scoring a couple of memorable long-range tries.
"You have to have pace nowadays, no matter which position you play in because that's what the game demands," he says.
Langley has fully recovered from shoulder surgery last November and has great expectations for the next eight months.
He made 28 appearances last season, 17 in the starting line, and is looking to build on that in a Bradford side which is much changed from the one who won their last 12 matches en route to grand final glory.
Pack members Lee Radford and Rob Parker have both moved on to be replaced by veterans Chris McKenna and Stanley Gene, both of whom will offer Langley stiff competition for selection.
"My goals for 2006 are simple: to play as well as I possibly can in every game and secure my spot," says Langley. "Hopefully things will go from there.
"It would be nice to think that I'll be in contention for a Great Britain place come the end of the season. However, I'm not looking too far ahead, I know I can't allow myself to be distracted.
"Defending our title is going to be tough because so many other teams in the competition are stronger now than they were last year.
"The defence starts on Sunday with a match at Wakefield, who beat us on the opening day of last season, and we're determined to avoid a repeat."
Langley was watched by Wakefield as a junior, but opted to sign for the Bulls, who subsequently offered him and Stuart Reardon to Trinity as part of a failed bid to take Gareth Ellis to Odsal, a saga which led to much speculation about the future of both Bradford players.
"I don't think it affected my form too much. At the end of the day the game is a business and Bradford will make decisions they feel are beneficial to the club," he says.
"You have to prove to the club that you still have a lot to offer. I think I've done that already and I'm going to keep on doing that.
"There's no better feeling than playing for a champion team."
1 Michael Withers
2 Marcus Bai
3 Ben Harris
4 Shontayne Hape
5 Lesley Vainikolo
6 Iestyn Harris (capt)
7 Paul Deacon
8 Joe Vagana
9 Ian Henderson
10 Brad Meyers
11 Chris McKenna
12 Paul Johnson
13 Terry Newton
14 Andy Lynch
15 Stanley Gene
16 Jamie Langley
17 Karl Pryce
18 Adam Watene
19 Brett Ferres
20 Matt Cook
21 Ryan Atkins
22 Dave Halley
23 Stuart Fielden
24 Marcus St Hilaire
FROM THE TERRACE
"I HAVE little doubt that 2006 will be a successful one for Bradford Bulls, but I'm less certain whether that will mean silverware.
"We've lost some high quality players and are something of an unknown quantity.
"The players we have recruited can all do a good job for us and the squad looks happier now than it was a year ago.
"Jamie Peacock is the biggest loss, he's probably the best second row we've had in the last 30 years, but one player who I think could step into his shoes is young Matt Cook.
"It's a big ask for Matt, but he has the confidence and the ability.
"Realistically, a top-six finish is well within our grasp, but most of the fans will want more. And rightly so.
"I feel we have it in us to make the top three or four, but I'm not yet sure we have the quality needed to go all the way.
"Success for the Bulls this year would be to reach at least one final and the Challenge Cup looks a more attainable goal than the Super League title.
"People wrote us off last year, just as they are writing us off now, and look what happened. It never pays to write off Bradford Bulls."
Bradford Bulls fan
YORKSHIRE POST February 6th 2006