AS one of Bradford Bulls’ most decorated and revered players, it understandably saddens James Lowes to see them in their current predicament.
He may have moved on to assist arch-rivals Leeds Rhinos before switching to his current role as Leeds Carnegie head rugby union coach but, for the Odsal faithful, their erstwhile hooker who helped win them so much silverware during their halcyon days, remains an iconic figure.
Ahead of their crucial game against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats tomorrow, which Bradford owner Marc Green has labelled as arguably more important as any of those Grand Finals successes given the club’s perilous state near the foot of Super League, they could certainly do with someone of his class and fighting pedigree in their ranks.
However, Lowes himself insists the struggling club’s position – they will be 10 points adrift of safety if relegation rivals Wakefield prosper at his old stomping ground – is not as dire as many suggest.
Of course, Wednesday is pivotal, too, given Bradford will discover whether their appeal against a six-point deduction for entering administration has been successful in any way.
But, speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Lowes said: “Even if they do lose on Sunday there should be no need to panic.
“Apart from the side right at the top of Super League, there’s no real stand-out teams this year and there’s a few in that middle to bottom section who aren’t getting away from those relegation spots either.
“Regardless of what happens with the appeal, it’d be good for Bulls to start picking up some wins now over these next four weeks and that will be important rather than Sunday’s result itself.
“Wakefield and London are in a similar situation, both getting beaten regularly and often heavily, but Bradford certainly have the squad of players good enough to get them out of this.
“There’s no reason why they shouldn’t string a few wins together.
“It wouldn’t be all doom and gloom if they did lose against Wakefield but if they won it’d give everyone such a lift.”
That said, Lowes – who scored 84 tries in 205 Super League games for Bradford between 1996 and 2003 – admits he has been taken aback by some of the West Yorkshire club’s recent returns.
Francis Cummins’s side have picked up just one win in 11 league games and their defence has been particularly brittle of late, something which should be aided tomorrow by the return of five regulars from injury.
“The points deduction hasn’t helped them but it’s still surprised me over the last few weeks some of the scores they have lost by, certainly last Saturday against a Catalan side who aren’t in the best of form,” said Lowes, Bradford submitting 46-4 in the south of France.
“They’ve leaked more than 100 points in just two games so that’s a bit of a shock.
“I think, though, with the squad now available to them, they will beat Wakey and convincingly, too, by 20 points.”
Lowes won three Super League titles with Bradford, twice lifted the Challenge Cup and was man-of-the-match as they secured their first World Club Challenge against Newcastle Knights and the brilliant Andrew Johns in 2002.
Man of Steel in 1997, the hooker, skilled and aggressive in equal measure, was the epitome of what established Bradford as the pre-eminent side for a significant period of the summer era and, undoubtedly, is one of the club’s finest players in their 119-year history.
Having witnessed Bradford slip into administration twice in the last two years, though, and fail to win a major trophy since the 2006 World Club Challenge, it is painful for him to now see them lurching from crisis to crisis.
“The mess they’re in now is after what happened a few years ago in the first administration,” he said. “People have taken it over since and it’s not worked either and it is very sad to see such a major club of the Super League era in this position.
“You can go all the way back too as far as what went on with the Iestyn Harris deal (2004) to see where things were going wrong.
“The people of that period should hold their hands up, come out and say what really happened with some of the decisions then. All this now did not happen overnight.
“Something went wrong at Bradford a long time ago.”
Green bought the club out of administration in March and has invested into it, furthermore insisting he will not abandon Bradford even if they do fall into the Championship.
Lowes, 44, added: “I hope he is there for the long haul. I don’t know him personally but Bradford need someone to start a rebuilding process and, whether they go down or not, they need some continuity.
“They have quite a big fan-base and a good core of fans – I know they will stick by them through thick and thin – and the message is that if the worst does happen they have to stay solid and get into a position so they can come back.
“But I think they’ll win on Sunday and that could start them off to recovery.”
Bulls are boosted by the return of Matt Diskin, Matty Blythe, Dale Ferguson and front-rowers Jamal Fakir and Chev Walker from injury.
Wakefield are without forward Chris Annakin, who is beginning a five-match suspension.