IT COMES as a surprise to Keith Lulia when informed about the occasional severity of Craven Park’s weather conditions.
Revelations that freezing Hull KR players received piping hot tea in their water bottles during Sunday’s win over Widnes had not yet reached the Bradford Bulls centre.
Still in his first few months experiencing Super League, the unfavourable news may have slightly dimmed the Australian’s expectations on his first trip to the east coast this evening.
“I’d not heard that – I thought with it being a bit closer to the water than we are it might actually be a little bit hotter,” admitted Lulia.
Oh dear. As a Cook Islands international, you can see his thinking but the North Sea and its accompanying swell is far different to the warmer climes of the South Pacific or the Sydney beaches on which he grew up.
However, to continue the geographical theme, Bradford are travelling well, unbeaten on the road having won at both Castleford and Wakefield, with Hull KR their latest target.
The addition of Lulia, recently arrived from Newcastle Knights on a two-year deal, has fortified a centre position which needed urgent improvement this term and, since a chastening debut against Wigan, his influence is beginning to tell.
Tonight, he will have a swift reunion with three of his former Newcastle colleagues – Hull KR head coach Craig Sandercock, full-back Shannon McDonnell and second-row Con Mika all moved en masse to Craven Park at the same time as he headed to Odsal Stadium.
“If Sandy had got the job a little earlier I might have ended up at Hull KR, too,” Lulia admitted to the Yorkshire Post.
“But I’d already signed with Bradford Bulls by then and am enjoying it here after a tough start getting settled in.
“It’ll be good to see them all on Saturday. Sandy was one of the assistants at Newcastle and he really helped me out a lot with my defence there last year.
“I found him really easy to talk to and very approachable while Shan’ has got some good feet coming out of the back and Con is just a big, strong guy.
“He can put huge shots on in defence but has good hands, too, and can play like a second half.”
Mika returns from suspension this evening – he may well have been glad to have had to sit out those bleak conditions against Widnes – having quickly established himself as a Robins fans favourite.
Bradford, playing the third of four consecutive Saturday evening live televised fixtures (surely a record in itself) arrive on the back of a 23-10 loss against leaders Warrington Wolves.
However, Lulia says: “We came out of that game with more confidence than Warrington.
“We got a lot out of it, especially in terms of our defence, and showed everyone that we are a team to watch out for.
“Each week we’re getting more confidence and bonding together further. We’re getting better but the guys see this game at Hull KR as a must-win,”
It seems far too early to be making such bold calls yet, in fairness, if Bradford are to reach the play-offs for the first time since 2008, they do need to be picking up points from such fixtures. They will leapfrog ninth-placed Rovers and break into the top eight if they do succeed although their improving opponents are certainly finding their own feet under Sandercock.
Lulia, who will come up against former NRL foe Jake Webster tonight, scored his first Super League try in that win at Wakefield (pictured).
The rangy 24-year-old started his career at St George Illawara under the watchful eye of current Bulls coach Mick Potter.
“I grew up in the same area – Wollongong – as Mick and used to play against his son back when we were Under-12s,” added Lulia.
“Mick was coaching the Dragons’ Premier League side when I was coming up through the ranks and has helped me a lot.”
Meanwhile, it was a try for Newcastle against St George last season which made a ‘You Tube’ star of Lulia but not for any remarkable skill.
Nearly 9,000 people have watched the strong-running centre clearly get on the end of a simple move but then, in a dazed state, come off the pitch amusingly asking coaching staff if he had actually scored.
“That was a funny one,” he recalls.
“I actually got knocked out about two minutes before and, even the next day watching the footage, I had no memory at all of that try.
“I ended up waking up on the sidelines five minutes before the end not knowing where I was.”
Lulia will be hoping he remembers tonight’s game for all the right reasons, And does not need any of those tea infusions along the way.