John Kear: ‘Reaching the Challenge Cup final is Bradford Bulls’ Everest - but people climb Everest all the time’

SQUIRRELLED away in a spare bedroom at John Kear’s house in Penistone is a vast library of scribbled rugby league knowledge spanning four decades.

Bradford Bulls head coach John Kear.
 (
Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)
Bradford Bulls head coach John Kear. ( Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

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The reams of notes from one of the sport’s most experienced coaches almost form their very own encyclopedia on players, teams, opponents and tactics, nurtured over his years trying to eke out the very best of all the sides he has managed from Sheffield Eagles to Batley Bulldogs, Paris St Germain to Wakefield Trinity, and Wales to his current position as Bradford Bulls chief.

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None of it is gathering dust either; the copious insights remain a useful tool for the 64-year-old who, indeed, revisited them once more ahead of tomorrow’s Coral Challenge Cup quarter-final between Bradford and Halifax at Odsal.

John Kear and Paul Broadbent celebrate their Wembley success with Sheffield Eagles in 1998.

It should come as no surprise the gregarious coach is so studious; asked what advice he would give others entering the profession, he states “work hard and prepare thoroughly no matter what the challenge or opposition”.

Kear concedes that ethos is embedded from his roots in teaching. The Castlefordian was a PE teacher before making the switch to coaching full-time in the mid-1990s.

“When you went to qualify as a teacher it was a very thorough process,” he recalled to The Yorkshire Post.

“One thing they did teach you to do was really prepare very, very well indeed because preparation gives you security, security of knowledge and security that things will go well.

“That’s just carried on throughout my life, basically, with everything that I do.”

Kear’s meticulous nature came to the fore via the unexpected world of social media after he had masterminded Bradford’s shock win over Leeds Rhinos in the last round of the Challenge Cup.

His wife posted a picture of him on Twitter – just hours after the stunning victory three weeks ago – sat in his shorts already making notes in his book as he watched the epic 80 minutes back. “I wasn’t aware she’d even done that,” admitted Kear, who swiftly became a social media star as the post quickly racked up more than 1,000 ‘likes.’

“There’s a lovely story behind it as my missus wasn’t very pleased with me.

“Obviously we’d had a great win that day and I think she wanted to be treated, shall we say, to a nice meal in a restaurant.

“She wanted to go to our local Italian but I just can’t rest until I’ve watched the game from an analytical point of view.

“When it’s on the day and you are in and amongst it, it’s quite emotional as much as you try and stay calm and composed.

“So, it’s nice to take that out of it and watch it in an analytical way and I always find it’s best to do that as soon as I get home or on the bus coming back from an away game.

“She was a little ticked off that we didn’t go out but I made up for it by taking her out the next day.

“Being a true Yorkshireman, it worked out well for me as well as it was two-for-one on Sunday!”

Kear – who inspired Sheffield (1998) and Hull (2005) to famous Cup final wins – made various notes on that Leeds victory in his ‘little black book’ and admitted: “Upstairs in my office, in the small bedroom, I’ve got books from when I first started coaching. They’re all cross-referenced. It’s so sad!

“I often look back amongst them and stick in little reminders about things I did well or perhaps didn’t do too well.

“The books are very much self-reflection as well as team reflection. I like to think I review things thoroughly, not only on the team but how we prepared them as well. There’s notes there, for next time, on where we need to do better.”

And what do his notes say about tomorrow’s opponents Halifax as the Championship rivals each strive to get to within 80 minutes of Wembley?

“Obviously I’ve just been going through all the little tips I’ve given the players in the previous two games we’ve played them this season,” explained Kear.

“Some I feel I got right, some I feel I didn’t so obviously in this one I’ll perhaps merge the two and hopefully we will get it right 90 per cent of the time. If we do that we will be successful.”

Bradford won 33-26 at The Shay in April but came unstuck a fortnight ago when Halifax gained some semblance of revenge by prospering 21-14 at the Summer Bash in Blackpool.

Clearly, though, tomorrow’s third meeting of 2019 has far more riding on it with a place in the Cup semi-finals at stake.

The last time the derby rivals met at this stage was 2000 when star-studded Bradford – with Robbie Paul, James Lowes, Jamie Peacock, Brad Mackay et al – went on to lift the trophy at Murrayfield.

Of course, things have changed at Odsal since, three administrations and a liquidation seeing Kear having to guide the re-formed club out of League 1 last year.

Still, the wonderful drama as they dumped illustrious Leeds out of the competition was enough to persuade the BBC to revisit the rickety old stadium again tomorrow for one of their live televised picks.

With one Championship club destined to be in tomorrow’s semi-final draw, could a second-tier side actually go all the way to Wembley?

If Kear could navigate that it would perhaps be the greatest of all his rugby league feats.

“I think there’s some really good teams in the Championship,” he said.

“It (reaching the final) is an Everest but people have climbed Everest haven’t they?

“I’ve always believed that I can do well and that I can win and it’s the same with any team I’ve been associated as well.

“So you never know. But Everest has been climbed and perhaps for the Championship, this Everest could be climbed.”

Kear’s name is synonymous with the Challenge Cup but the genesis of that comes from long before any of those famous escapades.

As a diehard Castleford fan, he watched them triumph in the final in 1969 and then successfully defend it a year later.

“I saw the try when Mal Reilly just flipped one of the Salford players over his back and offloaded to Alan Hardisty who went under the posts,” he said, about the 1969 affair.

“And I was there the year after in what was a pretty brutal game when Cas’ came out 7-2 winners over Wigan.

“I think really that’s what started my love affair with Wembley and the Challenge Cup.

“I was only a young kid but I remember just emerging from those steps and looking out. It was such a huge stadium with such vibrant colour, the playing surface looked perfect and it just took my breath away.

“I suppose you could say it was love at first sight.”