JAMES Donaldson is a player who is coming of age amid Bradford Bulls’ ongoing problems.
Given his growing performances in pre-season, the 22-year-old loose forward was always going to be an important part of Francis Cummins’ plans this year.
With veteran Jamie Langley having moved on to Hull KR, too, there was scope for someone to nail down the vacant No13 role.
However, given the enforced loss of key props Garreth Carvell and Nick Scruton to Hull FC and Wakefield Trinity respectively, both casualties of Bradford’s latest dance with administration, the hard-working Cumbrian is only going to become more integral in their whole pack operation.
It is pleasing to see. Donaldson had been rated possibly the most talented player in his age group when then Bradford head coach Steve McNamara moved heaven and earth to secure the services of the Wath Brow Hornets youngster six years ago.
Then just 16, the England Schoolboys international spurned both champions Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors to sign for the West Yorkshire club.
His path since has been tricky, however, and a series of significant injuries, including two knee reconstructions, has slowed his expected progress.
Donaldson managed just 50 Super League appearances in his first five years at Odsal, the majority of those performances coming off the bench, but he had his best return of 11 starts last term and has been in from the off in all of their opening games so far.
Cummins described his tireless displays as “immense” after another hugely-involved 80 minutes during the hard-fought win against London Broncos last Sunday.
A previous stint to help forge a victory at Wakefield was dubbed “outstanding” and the coach concedes the time, energy and investment initially made by McNamara and Bradford head of youth Paul Medley are clearly now paying dividends.
Similarly, 22-year-old Tom Olbison, an industrious, strong-running second-row from East Leeds, is maturing nicely as well if his purposeful display against London is anything to go by.
Fellow Academy back-row products Elliott Whitehead and Jon Bateman left last year, pressing for moves to Catalan Dragons and Wigan Warriors respectively which saw the club cash in.
But in Donaldson, Olbison and Addy, the Scotland international second-row comfortably filling in at stand-off after Lee Gaskill’s unfortunate injury, there is much to admire in Bradford’s youth and it must be hoped they can all be retained while the uncertainty of the club’s future continues.
They head to Hull FC on Friday realising a third successive win will bring them parity and already overhaul the six point deduction - they were hit with the same punishment in 2012 - incurred for breaking insolvency rules.
“We can’t wait to go over there as we think we can win again and put us to level peggings on zero,”” Donaldson told the Yorkshire Post.
“We’ll stay positive. We think we can go there and do a job.
“We’re just going to take one week at a time, that’s all we can do, but we’re doing okay.
“We’ve been through this (administration) before. We sort of know how to handle the situation.
“But from what I’ve heard and seen I can’t believe how many people are writing us off and the negativity they’re putting around the team.
“That’s a boost to us. If we stay tight and together we know when we’re at training and when we’re in that changing room, and we believe in ourselves.
“That’s what’s going to get us through at the end of the day.”
Bradford know they will have to try and prove more forthright in their attacking work at the KC Stadium having spent the majority of their game against London defending.
The zeal with which they did so, though, before counter-attacking so ruthlessly to secure a 25-12 victory, underlines just why Cummins has so much confidence in his squad.
“It’s a key part of our games nowadays,” continued Donaldson, who made a staggering 66 tackles and then also grounded a burglar who attempted raiding his home that night.
“We haven’t got the biggest squad but we pride ourselves on our defence and that’s what’s getting us out of the mire sometimes really.
“We just rely on the hard work to then pay us back when we get back down at the other end.”
Bradford are still awaiting to see if a new owner will rescue the blighted club after chairman Mark Moore and his fellow directors withdrew their offer to the administrator last week after being told about the points deduction and losing faith in the RFL.
“It was a relief (to play against London) but it was hard at the same time too,” said Donaldson, team-mate Scruton’s move to Wakefield confirmed just 24 hours before kick-off.
“It had been a tough week for everyone in the team and their families as well so to get yourself prepared mentally was the tough part.
“We did that, though, and we pulled it back.
“We know it was a tough decision for Scrutes and he was just doing right by his family and his career.
“There is a bit of loyalty in there but sometimes when you get to the back end of your career you have to do what is right and good on him for what’s he’s chosen. “It’s been a massive decision and I could see it in him when I saw him last week - the disappointment and the hurt that he’s obviously been through.
“That’s why he didn’t play last weekend as he obviously knew he was not right.
“It’ll take him a few days to get over it. He’ll be missed by all the lads here as he’s a massive presence here in the changing rooms and a character.”
On his own form, Donaldson - whose contract is up at the end of the season - admitted: “I’m feeling confident.
“I just try and work my backside off for the team and try and pay them back. “They work just as hard as me and it’s all about the team effort.
“I’m just trying to build on the last few years.
“I’ve not had the best few seasons being in and out and stuff so I want to cement my place in this team.”