IT IS said that sport is cyclical and, judging by the physical size of Bradford Bulls’ squad this year, assistant coach Karl Harrison fully concurs.
The ex-Great Britain prop is no shrinking violet himself given the 50-year-old, nicknamed ‘Rhino’, was renowned as being one of the toughest front-rows of his generation.
He is back at Odsal again, more than a decade after his first stint there serving under Brian Noble when the West Yorkshire club, with its ‘Awesome Foursome’ prop quartet running roughshod over all who came before them, were at the height of their powers.
Captain James Lowes was integral to that side but is now in charge of the current crop as they look to plot their way out of the unfamiliar surroundings of Championship football.
Harrison told The Yorkshire Post: “He’s brought some size in with him.
“When Jimmy was a hooker at the Bulls we had some big men around him – Paul Anderson, Joe Vagana, Stuart Fielden, Brian McDermott – and he seems to be replicating that now.
“People like Samir Tahraoui and Lucas Walshaw are six foot five, Dan Fleming is another at six four, but they are all looking in good nick as well.
“We’ve got a squad that’s big in numbers also and they’ll have to perform week-in, week-out to get in the team this year.
“There’s a little bit of experience in there but some of the young boys have impressed in pre-season as well.
“We saw at Castleford last week in our first trial that a couple of them were up to the standard.
“Pre-season’s gone really well and we’re looking forward to the start.
“Are we guaranteed a spot in Super League? No. Are we good enough? That will depend on results on the field but it certainly won’t be through a lack of effort and we’ll be ready for the challenge ahead.”
Harrison’s vast coaching experience in the Championship will be a crucial asset for Lowes.
He helped Salford City Reds earn promotion in 2003 and also led Batley Bulldogs for more than three years, guiding them to the 2010 Northern Rail Cup, before spending the last three seasons in charge at Halifax.
“Jimmy keeps saying he’s not bothered if it’s Championship or Super League as it’s still rugby league,” said Harrison, who was also England coach from 2004 to 2006.
“There are fundamental differences and Jimmy will see that once the season starts properly at Leigh.
“It is slightly slower, slightly more aggressive and you need to play slightly different ways.
“But we’ve trained really, really well, Jimmy has set a fantastic pre-season programme, the boys have bought into it and everyone’s looking good at the moment.”
Harrison spent five years as a Super League coach with Salford, where Lowes was his assistant for a time, before what many deemed an unfair sacking in 2007.
His sudden exit last September from Halifax, the club he had always guided to top-three finishes and who he captained during a playing career that also included Hull FC, took some by surprise.
“It was a mutual agreement,” said Leeds-born Harrison, who had been seeking an eventual return to the full-time game.
“I was offered a three-year contract about a month before that departure but it wasn’t quite right for me there at the time or for Halifax.
“But I’ve not fallen out with anyone at the club.
“I let my (kitchen) business go last January so didn’t have a full-time occupation anymore and, after what happened at Halifax, when this opportunity came up I jumped at it. It’s always what I wanted to do, be a professional coach and that’s what I am again.
“It’s great to be back. I’m enjoying being back at the club. I had a great time the last time I was here (2000-02) and I’m excited by what we’re doing.
“To be fair, the owners and the board have been fantastic keeping things full-time and the training facilities here are great.
“Everyone seems to have bought into what has happened and we’ve got a great coach going forward in Jimmy.”
Under the game’s new structure this year, Bradford will be vying to finish in the Championship top four so they can have a shot at securing promotion.
Super League’s bottom four teams then split away after 23 rounds to join them in a mini-division with seven fixtures then played out to decide who plays where for 2016.
“The goal is to go straight back up and the Super League needs Bradford Bulls up there,” insisted Harrison.
“But you have to earn the right. Look at my football team Leeds United. The Premier League would be a far better competition with them in it, but they’ve not been there for 11 years.
“You have to do the nitty gritty to get back up there.
“Just because you have a big name doesn’t guarantee you anything and we’re fully aware of that.”
There will still be difficult times ahead, no doubt, but with Harrison’s nous and knowledge, Bradford will surely stand a better chance of achieving that goal.