IN A BID to increase support for their biggest game of the season, Bradford Bulls have enlisted the help of a raft of former legends in a neat piece of social media work.
Video messages from Shontayne Hape, Lesley Vainikolo and Joe Vagana are brought all the way from New Zealand while Henry Paul and – a little closer to home – Robbie Paul send their best wishes, too.
As a fellow member of those great trophy-hoarding Bulls sides, that culminated in their last Super League glory in 2005, Leon Pryce would perhaps ordinarily be called upon for a few motivational words as well.
However, that is not the case tomorrow and for good reason: the proud Bradfordian is coach of the Workington Town team bidding to actually ruin Bulls’ promotion bid in the League 1 Play-Off Final. Yes, of course, it is no longer Super League but the sport’s third-tier where the three-time World Club champions currently reside.
If they can get over the Cumbrians at Odsal they will be back, at least, in the Championship for 2019. But it will be no easy feat.
After relegation last year, Bradford were favourites to win the League 1 title and go straight back up but York City Knights had other ideas so John Kear’s side have had to take the play-off route.
I think it’s the first step on the long road back to where we feel – with the structures of this club and its support base – we should be.John Kear
“There’s some pretty good players there, isn’t there?” said the veteran coach, when asked about that promotional video.
“It’s great to see them taking such an interest and, should we be successful in getting Bradford into the Championship, I think it’s the first step on the long road back to where we feel – with the structures of this club and its support base – we should be.
“Things are looking good. We gave our best performance of the season in the semi-final last week and there is a buzz about the players and their preparation this week.
“I can’t wait for Sunday to come along and see how well they can do. I’m pretty confident they will perform.”
Ruthless Bradford vanquished Oldham 47-0 to set-up tomorrow’s Odsal decider although Workington will be an entirely different proposition; Bradford only lost three League 1 games all year but two were against the tricky part-timers.
Pryce, who turns 37 on Tuesday, was shortlisted for League 1 Coach of the Year for his exploits in his first season as a head coach.
Like many, Kear, who gave an 18-year-old Pryce his England debut against France back in 1999, was surprised when the talented former half-back even decided to go into that part of the game.
“No, I never did see him being a coach,” said Kear. “It did come a bit from leftfield. But he could always read the game as a player and he’s certainly done a good job with Workington.
“They’ve beaten us twice already, so we’re fully aware of his ability. We have to make sure we put our best foot forward come Sunday to make sure it’s not three.”
After yet more trophies at St Helens, Pryce went on to play for Catalans and Hull FC before finishing off his career where it all began at Bradford last term.
It was not the finale he hoped for, however, dogged by injuries and then, in pathetic scenes given what he had done for the club, being booed off by sections of his home crowd when replaced in what was his final outing.
Of course, he has been back since to inflict a costly defeat and many will back Workington to cause another upset tomorrow. However, Kear believes his side have learned from their errors.
“They’re still a young team,” he admitted. “But we’ve added some experience in there now which we were lacking at the start of the year and the team is getting better. They’ve got better as the year has gone on; they are more battle-hardened (than the last performance against Workington).
“I gained great hope and satisfaction from that display (against Oldham) for the immediate but also it gives me real hope and aspiration for the future about what this side can do.
“I’m quite at ease with it as these are the types of game I look forward to most. Sudden-death football.”
Although, weirdly, after the late, late changes to the competition format just three weeks ago it is not even sudden-death; the losers will get another chance for promotion next week when they face Swinton Lions, who finished bottom of the Championship Shield.
Neither side will want to be in that, though, for myriad reasons.