IT HAS taken some time but Lee Gaskell now, at last, believes in his own ability.
This spells good news for Bradford Bulls as they seek promotion straight back to Super League in the forthcoming Qualifiers.
As a youngster with home-town St Helens, stand-off Gaskell emerged as one of the most prodigious natural talents around, playing in the 2011 Grand Final when still just 20.
However, while fellow Academy products and team-mates against Leeds Rhinos that night – Tommy Makinson and Jonny Lomax – went on to establish themselves as regulars with Saints, for one reason or another, he stuttered.
Gaskell eventually ended up on a season-long loan with Salford Red Devils in 2013 and never found his way back at Saints before joining Bradford last year.
Even then, he did not quite look the part but the arrival of Jimmy Lowes last June, while not preventing relegation, did prove crucial for the exciting player’s development.
Gaskell has since stood out in the Championship this term and, if they are truly going to earn promotion, Bulls will require him to demonstrate that silky, defence-ruining class for a few more weeks yet.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, he said: “As soon as Jimmy came in last season, he just put me in there and gave me faith and as a player that’s all you want – that belief from people.
“He told me to go out there and try stuff and I feel miles better; I’ve not got a coach knocking on my door saying ‘what you doing here?’ It’s nice to have that pressure off me as well and hopefully I’ll repay him with performances. Jimmy has given me a role to express myself and I’ve enjoyed it.”
Gaskell declined the chance to stay in Super League but has not regretted that.
“I’m still only young yet for a half-back and it was the right decision,” explained the player, who turns 25 in October and has scored 17 tries in as many appearances this term.
“I’ve got a good coach leading me, the fans have been fantastic and Bradford is still a massive club. Sometimes you need to take one step back to move forward.
“I’ve done that and I do believe in my own ability now.
“Half-back is a very demanding role sometimes and you have to dominate those players around you, which I struggled with before especially when it’s international players you’re supposed to boss around, which felt a bit awkward.
“But now I’m older and a bit more mature, that side of the game comes more naturally to me. I feel more grounded now and believe in my own ability.
“In these Qualifiers coming up, I think I can test myself against them and the team can do, too.”
Bradford open their account against fellow Championship side Sheffield Eagles a week tomorrow, a game that will mark Gaskell’s long-awaited return after suffering a broken jaw versus Doncaster six weeks ago.
The Bulls have undoubtedly missed him; the West Yorkshire club have won just one of their last five games to almost limp into the Qualifiers, although they have invested boldly in the process recruiting Queensland State of Nation centre Dane Nielsen and former Hull KR winger Omari Caro.
“I don’t think it’s just about getting me back,” insisted Gaskell, with Bradford having fallen against Sheffield and fellow Qualifiers, Halifax, plus Featherstone in recent weeks.
“There’s been a few blips but other players out who are important to the side, too.
“We had a slip-up against Halifax losing 20-16 on Sunday, but having been 14-0 down at half-time we beat them 16-6 in that second half.
“We just needed that kick up the backside at the break by Jimmy and it worked wonders.
“If we go into a full 80 minutes fully prepared and mentally right, no disrespect to anyone in the Qualifiers, but we can push all of them and there’s no reason why we can’t come away with the wins we need (to get promoted).”
You would imagine the skilful late developer – fit last week but not risked with a top-two Championship and four home games already secured – will be integral to any success, especially against Super League sides like Wakefield Trinity, Hull KR and his former club Salford.