Dave Craven: Incomprehensible for Bradford Bulls to finish as low as fifth

The looks on the faces of beaten Bradford Bulls players at Featherstone on Sunday tell their own story (Picture: James Hardisty).
The looks on the faces of beaten Bradford Bulls players at Featherstone on Sunday tell their own story (Picture: James Hardisty).
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Many Bradford Bulls fans thought relegation to the Championship was as bad it could get. How wrong they were.

Sunday’s dismal defeat at Featherstone Rovers brought a whole new level of woe and meant the once-great club was reduced to their most shambolic state as of yet.

There had, of course, been significant reasons for falling out of Super League in 2014.

Principally, there was the points deduction incurred for entering administration, the painful price paid for previous regimes’ wretched mismanagement.

From that trauma it was always conceivable that they might not return to the highs of the Grand Final, let alone World Club glory for some considerable time.

It would need careful, judicious planning and application – on and off the field – to navigate their way back, firstly into Super League, and then to be able to challenge at such a high level.

However, there should never have been any reason whatsoever for failing to finish in the top-four of the second-tier division. It is simply inexcusable.

How Bradford, with all the funds invested into their full-time squad, could only muster a fifth-place finish in the Championship is incomprehensible.

The majority of clubs in there are semi-professional – essentially, that means most of their players have full-time jobs elsewhere – yet two of them managed to finish above the abject Bulls.

Featherstone did so with their sterling 20-0 victory at the weekend as did heroic Batley Bulldogs, who achieved third place on a budget of around just £150,000.

It is estimated that Bradford spent more than £1m on their wage bill yet so many of their players were, ultimately, not up top scratch. Steve Ferres, their managing director, will come under fire as he led recruitment.

For a second successive season they had too many players on the books – Stuart Howarth, the hooker loaned in from Wakefield recently, wore No 42 during the Featherstone debacle to illustrate that point – and everything about them seemed chaotic.

One of their gravest mistakes was, bizarrely, not recruiting a player they actually needed at the start of the season: a high-quality half-back to take control and bring some order to it all.

This should have been a priority, but it was amazingly overlooked until just a few weeks ago when they panicked and brought in two – Dane Chisholm and Lewis Charnock – who, in all fairness, are not the required calibre anyway.

Jimmy Lowes walking away as head coach for “personal reasons” in mid-April did not make things easy, but the club should still have had enough about them to secure a top-four place.

His replacement Rohan Smith, though, struggled to fire them up for the finish and it was alarming how tepid, mediocre and downright lacklustre his side were during such a critical 80 minutes on Sunday. A draw would have been enough to confirm fourth place, but they failed spectacularly.

Some would argue Bradford would have been found badly wanting in the Qualifiers anyway with no chance of promotion, but that is not the point.

They would have earned a crucial cash windfall; a home tie against Leeds Rhinos, for example, that could have seen 15,000 plus descend on Odsal is now lost.

Instead, they face the prospect of hosting Swinton Lions and Oldham in the Championship Shield, mundane, almost pointless fixtures that serve only as a reminder to their increasingly short-changed fans of how far they have fallen.

Who knows whether owner Marc Green will continue funding the project, but you could easily see him calling it quits. Then things really would get bad.