Leeds Rhinos v Bradford Bulls: L’Estrange is feeling so at home with Bulls he wants to stay put

Heath L'Estrange
Heath L'Estrange
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Bradford Bulls’ joint-captain Heath L’Estrange says he wants to spend the rest of his career at Provident Stadium, Odsal.

Ahead of tonight’s Super League encounter at Leeds Rhinos, the Australian hooker admits he has fallen in love with the English game and hopes to win a deal which will enable him to see out his days at the West Yorkshire club.

L’Estrange was one of three players signed by then Bradford coach Steve McNamara from Manly at the end of 2009.

Although illustrious scrum-half Matt Orford was a calamity and second-row Glenn Hall not much better – both left early after just one season at great financial cost to the club – the lively rake has been an unmitigated success.

“I do like it at Bradford and I’d like to stay,” he says, having already clocked up more than 80 games with them so far.

“Steve Mac took a chance with me four years ago when I really wasn’t getting my opportunity in the NRL.

“I’m not starting whingeing about it now, but I’d been under Craig Wing for so long, then John Doyle (at Sydney Roosters) and then Matty Ballin for another two years at Manly.

“I felt that I needed an opportunity and Steve Mac was the one who gave it to me.

“I’ve loved every minute of it here since and I don’t think there’s any point me and my wife wanting to go home.

“We get the odd bit of homesickness every now and again, but you always get that when away from home even when you’re on holidays.

“I’d love to stick it out here and enjoy this Bradford family we’ve made over the last four years.

“Hopefully, we can stay friends for the rest of our lives.”

It is refreshing to hear. The recent closure of tax loopholes for overseas players has seen many reassessing whether it is viable for them to stay in Super League.

It was one of the reasons 
ex-Australian Test forward Luke O’Donnell cited for getting out of his Huddersfield Giants contract earlier this season to head home and join Roosters.

Given the weak value of the pound against the Australian dollar, too, it would be easy for L’Estrange – a 2008 NRL Grand Final winner with Manly – to contemplate jumping on a plane as quickly as he does out of dummy-half when his deal expires at the end of next season.

But he has no such desire and it seems likely Bradford will do all they can to retain him especially as, at 27, he is just approaching his peak years.

L’Estrange, who generally starts for Francis Cummins’s side with ex-Leeds hooker and fellow captain Matt Diskin coming off the bench, was rewarded for his form last year when he played for the Exiles against England.

That, of course, came in the middle of Bradford’s financial crisis which now, under the leadership of new owner and restaurateur Omar Khan, is thankfully a thing of the past.

Indeed, the Bulls are thriving again, on and off the field, and they seek a win tonight which could take them joint-second with Wigan Warriors in Super League.

“Things seem to be (going well),” he adds. “We have regular contact with Omar, have lunch up there twice a week and they just tell us to worry about what we can worry about.

“That sounds like I’m saying the same stuff as last year, but the difference is we’ve got assurances we’ll be right with our pay now and, as long as the club’s here, we’re happy with where we’re at.”

The one thing preventing long-term contract talks at the moment, of course, is the fact Bradford are still only on a one-year probationary Super League licence after entering administration last summer.

However, in the next few weeks, the club hope to have that extended by the RFL until the end of 2014 when all licences expire.

L’Estrange says: “We haven’t heard anything about it but, the way the club is planning, everything is all guns blazing and we’re ready to rock and roll.

“We’re confident and I’m sure it’ll give Franny a bit of a clearer future of what he can do with cash for years to come.

“But for us it’s just game day as usual and important that we get out there and try getting on top of this Leeds side.”

Bradford face an impressive pack as they tackle the champions tonight, but L’Estrange is currently riding on the back of a pretty strong set of forwards himself.

“They are doing great,” he concedes, about the likes of youngsters Tom Olbison, John Bateman and Elliot Whitehead.

“What helps them a lot is we’ve two big boys – Nick Scruton and Manase Manuokafoa – leading the front and when they’re working so hard for you it’s easier to get a bit of confidence to play off the back of.

“It’s good and they’re great lads.

“Jonny (Bateman) has only had a couple of games back after injury so I’m sure we’ll see his best in the next couple of weeks and Elliott’s been outstanding for us ever since I’ve been here.

“I think he debuted that year and he’s itching for an England jersey, that’s my prediction.

“Then there’s Danny Addy going great for us in the halves. He’s nice and loud for me and Disko calling the ball.

“He’s a bit of a character and loves getting his hands on the ball; if he’s not going to set up for something else he’ll tuck it under his arm and run like a front-row.”

Bradford arrive after a defeat in Perpignan but L’Estrange sees no better place than derby night at Headingley to respond.

“I remember my first one was Disko’s testimonial over at Headingley,” he says.

“I enjoy it, especially with all of the fans singing songs against each other.

“They might not think we know what’s going on in the crowd, but we hear everything.

“Even the slightest heckle or random song gets through to the team and the derby just brings the best out of both sides.”