Dave Craven: Bradford must get key decisions right if they are to return

Bradford's Adrian Purtell
Bradford's Adrian Purtell
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IF all goes according to the form book, the real fight for Bradford Bulls will start in earnest around 4.40pm tomorrow.

Perversely, by then, they are likely to have just lost their biggest fight of recent times – trying to avoid relegation from Super League – but, in all reality, that scrap has been futile for well over a month.

Suffering defeat in pitiful style at Salford in mid-June, an eminently winnable fixture, spelled not only the end of Francis Cummins’s reign as head coach but any realistic chance of survival, too.

Ever since, Bradford, like a punch-drunk boxer, have simply been staggering around awaiting confirmation of their fate.

It has been impossible, in truth, for incoming coach James Lowes to make any concrete plans but by tomorrow evening, if, as expected, Huddersfield have prevailed and that knockout punch is finally landed, he will be able to start laying those foundations. The 44-year-old will swiftly discover which players are to remain faithful to the cause and opt to stay at a Championship club.

He will hope that a large chunk of the current squad will have been persuaded, in these few weeks together so far under him, that there is a future worth buying into.

Some already have gone public with their willingness to try to help them return to the elite – the Australian centre Adrian Purtell who has excelled this season, ex-St Helens stand-off Lee Gaskell and Danny Williams, the winger on loan from Salford.

Scotland international Danny Addy, and second-row Tom Olbison, both highly-rated products of Bradford’s academy, have hinted they want to stay.

England Knights scrum-half Luke Gale is going, however, with a deal set to be confirmed shortly at Castleford Tigers while their other leading light – Brett Kearney – is thought to be heading back home to Sydney.

Yet Lowes desperately needs help from other areas, principally from those above him at Odsal. There has to be coherent and strong leadership from Bradford’s hierarchy, whether that be owner Marc Green or managing director Steve Ferres. The club have been a perfect study in how not to run a club for so long but now, for all the painful aspects of this latest chapter, they have a great chance to rebuild and recalibrate.

It will not be easy; the differences in central funding between the relegated sides and those remaining in Super League are substantial but that just means their recruitment has to be all the more diligent.

The likes of Leigh and Featherstone are investing heavily in their bid to join the elite for 2016 although the latter possibly less so following their recent boardroom meltdown.

Nevertheless, Bradford, for all their rich heritage, have no divine right to an immediate return and their quest can not be achieved on a shoestring budget.

Four Championship sides will earn a crack at promotion but they will still have to negotiate their way past formidable foes.

In the slimmed down Super League next season there will be no sides as weak as London Broncos or Bradford are this time around so its bottom four will be competitive and well-financed.

There has to be very important decisions taken in the next few weeks at Odsal. At least they will soon know they can start making those decisions – but then they have to get them right.