james Lowes has warned his new Bradford Bulls charges to forget about the club’s High Court battle as they fight to preserve their Super League status.
Lowes was tempted to return to rugby league – after taking Leeds Carnegie to the brink of the Premiership via the play-offs – by the challenge of trying to restore the glory days at Odsal.
The 44-year-old was a three-time Super League champion, winning two Challenge Cups and a World Club Challenge title during an eight-year spell with Bradford. But, with the Bulls facing a daunting relegation fight – they are nine points adrift of safety with 10 games remaining, and face a High Court fight to retrieve a six-point deduction for entering administration – Lowes has returned to Odsal ready for the scrap.
“The legal challenge is not in our control, so it’s not something we can worry about,” said the former Great Britain international. “Whatever happens, happens.
“The players have just got to play, try to perform well, and do their job.
“We are not solicitors or barristers, we are not going into court to fight that; the fight we face is to play good rugby.
“There’s a distinct reality that we can be relegated and we have to face it. There’s no point not talking abut it or hiding away from it. But until it’s mathematically impossible for us to go one way or the other, then we just have to fight – fight for every scrap we can get. As long as we are fighting, we will be all right.
“We are preparing for every eventuality. It would be good for the lads to finish off nice and strongly, irrelevant of what they do, where the club goes – stays up or goes down.
“As long as they show some fight, the fans will be behind them.
“There’s too many variables at the moment, either way. We just need to show some fight and restore confidence by playing well.”
Lowes – who succeeded Francis Cummins this week – takes the Bulls to his former club Warrington tomorrow.
Restoring some confidence in the players, who have endured a torrid two years with off-field troubles over finances and ownership, is key for Lowes.
“It’s been interesting this week,” he said. “It’s been tough for the players, tough for everybody really. I have been impressed with the players, there is a decent squad. Most of them have obviously gone through a tough couple of years, and these last few weeks have been really tough for them.
“You can tell they have had a hard slog, you just have to find a way of putting that right.
“I don’t know what happened before so can’t say whether we could have done anything differently. I have just tried to do things my own way. You can guess what the confidence is like. They have gone through a tough time for a couple of years, a roller-coaster ride, so they are pretty flat.
“My job is to reinstil a little bit of confidence, but you can see it has been tough.”
With Bradford facing relegation, the vultures have been circling at Odsal with agents and rival clubs looking to tempt players away at the end of the season.
The uncertainty of their Super League contracts and futures has been a problem for the players, according to veteran hooker Matt Diskin, who took caretaker charge when Cummins was axed.
Diskin said: “The players have not handled the uncertainty of the contract situation very well, because we haven’t been talked to yet. That’s hard for the club because who knows where we are going to be?
“The players have agents and clubs sniffing around them, which obviously creates unrest.
“But, as a group of players, they are fighting for their lives. Whether that’s with Bradford, whatever division, or with another club, they are fighting for their reputations at the moment.
“Looking at it externally, our reputations aren’t in a very good position, given the performances we have fronted up.”
The contract issue is a problem new coach Lowes accepts, but he has challenged the players to put long-term futures on hold to try to ensure Bradford’s top-flight status.
“The lads are aware if the club gets relegated, they are out of Super League,” said Lowes.
“To maintain their Super League contract, they have to stay in Super League.
“To get that Super League contract back, if we do go down, they have to get back promoted.
“We have to forget about contracts, forget about next year and where they are going to go, and just finish the season playing some decent stuff.”