Stalwart Beattie honoured to take charge of Bradford Bulls in season opener

Leigh Beattie.
Leigh Beattie.
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IT fits nicely given the surreal events that have taken place at Bradford Bulls of late that the club’s groundsman and kitman will take charge of the side for tomorrow’s Championship opener at Hull KR.

Leigh Beattie, who started life at Odsal more than two decades ago as assistant to chief groundsman Roger Simpson, steps up again in bizarre circumstances.

When the new club was formed last month, after the four-times Super League champions went bust amid financial mayhem, the highly-decorated Geoff Toovey was appointed as head coach.

The former Manly chief and ex-Australia Test star landed in the country more than a week ago but has only arrived on a holiday visa and, therefore, cannot officially take control.

Although he has attended training sessions, Toovey will just watch from the stands at KCOM Craven Park tomorrow as Bradford, with a paperthin squad, look to cause a major shock against their relegated Super League opponents and start clawing back the 12-point deduction suffered for entering liquidation.

That said, for all his career path is unusual, if Bradford can find 17 players with the same character, drive and love for the club as Beattie, they will not go far wrong.

Cut him open and he would bleed red, amber and black.

A lifelong fan, he also made a couple of A team appearances for Bradford Northern and lives just a short distance from Odsal stadium where he has regularly clocked up the hours with his myriad roles.

Beattie is not an entire coaching novice either; he was at the helm of the club’s Under 16s last year, given the chance by then chief Jimmy Lowes, and managed the Under 19s this time around before the previous club folded.

A proud Bradfordian, he took charge of Bulls’ friendlies against Huddersfield Giants and Keighley Cougars but is now set to lead them into this Championship opener, too.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, he said: “It is all a bit bizarre but things are settling down now and looking better.

“I am proud. It was an honour to coach against Huddersfield and Keighley and it will be on Sunday as well.

“It is all a bit daunting, too, and very nerve-wracking but a good experience as well although I’ll be glad when Toovs is ready to start.

“He hasn’t said anything yet really. He’s just been observing. It’s just been me (coaching) really.””

On his love affair with the club - Beattie has worked for nothing on three occasions during different administrations – he explained: “I started when I was 16, left for a bit but came back and in total I’ve done about 20 years now.

“I’m not doing as much (of the kit/ground work) but I want to be a cheerleader next year. That’s the only job I haven’t done here so if I we do stay up this season I might don a leotard and do a bit of a pom-pom dance on the field.”

One of the burning questions is can Bradford who were World Club champions as recently as 2006 – the win over Wests Tigers was Beattie’s first game as kitman – really avoid relegation given their perilous starting position?

“It is do-able,” insisted Beattie, who also worked as England kitman under his former Bradford coach Steve McNamara.

“It will be a tough task and there’s no getting away from that.

“But we’ll recruit some experienced players and build a squad while, with me, the players have been great.

“Through what they’ve been through they’ve stuck together as a group and they are looking good and positive now.”

Just to add to this outlandish tale, he goes up against the legendary former Kangaroos World Cup-winning coach Tim Sheens tomorrow who takes charge of Hull KR for the first time.

Ordinarily, the side relegated from Super League dominates the opening day headlines in the Championship.

Yet even with Sheens’ gilded presence, Bulls take centre stage although, given the torturous and painful backstory leading to this point, they will wish they did not.