LEEDS RHINOS head coach Brian McDermott has spoken about the “unbelievable” loyalty of his former assistant James Lowes and says their friendship grew even stronger during their time together at Headingley.
Lowes returns there tonight as head coach of Bradford Bulls where, of course, the duo first made their names as players in the club’s halcyon early days of Super League.
Having helped Leeds to consecutive Grand Final wins as McDermott’s right-hand man in 2011 and 2012, Lowes left in June last year to take over as Leeds Carnegie chief.
However, the lure of the main job at Odsal when Francis Cummins was sacked recently proved too strong and, although he was unable to prevent their relegation, he is now charged with rebuilding for 2015 a famous club that has endured some shattering experiences of late.
At the fifth attempt, Lowes picked up his first win as Bradford stunned champions Wigan Warriors on Sunday and he quickly hopes to follow up with a shock victory at Headingley.
McDermott is looking forward to reacquainting himself with his erstwhile colleague whom he admits was a rock for him, especially during 2011.
For all its glorious end-game, that had been a difficult first season in charge when, at one point, inconsistent Leeds slipped as low as eighth.
“It’s tough working with your mates,” said McDermott.
“And Jimmy is my mate. He has been for years. But the strength of our relationship, without getting all mushy, is stronger now than it was before, as we have worked together in very intense moments.
“We have both been under pressure when we were in the job together. One thing I have to say about Jimmy is, he is an unbelievably loyal man.
“No matter how bad it got in 2011 and how many questions were being asked, he always had my back covered.
“That is brilliant. As a head coach, you want to know not only does your assistant believe in the things you believe in, but he has also got to have that loyalty aspect. I never, for one second, doubted any of that.”
Whereas some head coaches like their assistants to challenge them over tactics or team selections, McDermott says there was never any real need for that during almost three years together.
“Jimmy was the opposite, but, saying that, we came through the same school,” he explained.
“Both of us have a very, very similar philosophy about how the game should be played and certainly how we should defend.
“Rarely did I sit down with Jimmy and pontificate with him for three hours about what we should or shouldn’t do.
“It was more like a well-oiled machine. It was probably like that from the very first week.
“It was a very good fit. Jimmy is a smart fella, he knows his business; he knows how to attack and how to defend. Rarely did I think ‘you’ve got that wrong Jimmy’ and rarely did I have to say that to him. Rarely did he say to me ‘Mac I think this needs changing’ or ‘I think that needs changing’.
“There weren’t many occasions we had to do that, but at the same time we kept our relationship very honest as well.
“If something wasn’t quite right, we’d say it to each other. I really enjoyed working with him.”
Lowes took over at second-bottom Bradford when they were nine points adrift of safety with just 10 games remaining.
Relegation was confirmed with his fourth successive defeat at Huddersfield but, in their very next fixture, they produced a remarkable display last weekend.
“It would have taken Jimmy some time,” said McDermott. “It is just a shame the influence he is clearly having has come a week or two too late.
“He was given an almost impossible task to start with, keeping them up, but he has obviously done something special there so they are in a place where they can beat a very good team like Wigan.”
Similarly, McDermott – who spent nine years as a player at Odsal, winning, among other trophies, the 2002 World Club Challenge alongside Lowes – feels he can revive them in the Championship and inspire a top-flight return.
“Of course he can and it could be an exciting challenge; Jimmy is going to be responsible for building them back up,” he said.
“It has been a dismantled club but with the new owner, Marc Green, he has the opportunity to build a football department and put his own influences and philosophies into it.
“We all know if and when Bradford do start to get back in the top-flight or start to become a good club again, that base is there. People will come.
“The brand of Bradford Bulls, while it is probably diluted at the moment, is still and can be a very strong brand.
“Add a few wins, get them back in Super League, challenge for honours ... I don’t think they will have a problem getting the crowds back.”