IT MAY have fallen by the wayside during the Super League era but Bradford Bulls coach James Lowes believes the derby with Halifax remains hugely significant as the rivals reunite tonight.
Doing so in the Championship is not what either club would have imagined in 2003, especially Bradford, who won the Super League and Challenge Cup double that year, the season their West Yorkshire foes dropped into the second tier.
Halifax have never returned since and, though the Bulls won a second World Club Challenge a few months later, they, too, now find themselves demoted.
None of that matters this evening as the neighbours – they sit barely eight miles apart – do battle at Odsal in one of the most-eagerly anticipated games of the Championship season.
Lowes, who captained Bradford to Grand Final glory in 2003, his last appearance before retiring, was to the fore in numerous heated encounters with Leeds Rhinos during those halcyon days, arguably one of the fiercest rivalries in the sport.
But he said: “I think the game against Halifax was a bigger one for me, particularly when I played for Bradford.
“Leeds-Bradford was big from a Leeds point of view and when I played for Bradford against Leeds it was a big derby for me personally given my history at Headingley (as a former Rhinos player).
“But having played in a few Bradford-Halifax derbies down the years, I know what a big game it is for both clubs.
“We’re very close to each other geographically and they were always tough games.
“Both sides will be really pumped up for it on Friday night.”
There will be added spice to the encounter given Karl Harrison, whose contract as Halifax head coach was not renewed last season after three years at The Shay, is now Lowes’ assistant at Odsal.
Bradford, on a six-game winning run, have adjusted to life in the Championship well with their sole defeat being at champions Leigh on the opening weekend.
Their visitors, meanwhile, have won three and lost as many under Harrison’s successor Richard Marshall, going down narrowly 22-18 at the other relegated side London Broncos last Saturday.
Lowes, who recalls prop Adam Sidlow, winger Etu Uaisele and back-row Alex Mellor, said: “They’re a good side from what I’ve seen so far. I would expect them to challenge for a top-four spot and be up there at the end of the year.
“Without question they will be a challenge for us and, like most sides, they’re not going to lie down, particularly for this game at Odsal.”
Marshall said: “It will be great for the club to be involved in these type of games again.
“We’ve got an opportunity to get rid of the disappointment from last week again against tough, full-time opposition.
“It’s a tough start to our Easter programme but it’s something we’re not afraid of and we’re looking forward to.”