As Francis Cummins returns to the club where he earned legendary status, the Bradford Bulls boss is thriving in his new role. Dave Craven speaks to the ex-Rhino who is powering their rivals forward
THERE was a time when Francis Cummins and Brian McDermott would be in each others’ pockets all day every day.
The two coaches go head-to-head for the first time tonight in charge of two of the most famous rugby league clubs in the world.
However, to get to that point, they both had to serve their apprenticeships, do their time, learn the trade and each did some of that at Headingley.
It was only for a brief spell over the end of 2005 and into 2006 that the current Bradford Bulls and Leeds Rhinos chiefs worked together there as assistants but Cummins – the junior at the time – recalls it fondly.
“When I first got injured while still playing at Leeds I started helping with the Under-18s,” he said. “But after I retired I did a bit with the first team and got an opportunity working with Tony Smith and Mac.
“It was then that I realised if I’m going to do this – coaching – as a career I could have a great apprenticeship.
“I was in the same office as Mac for six months before he went to Harlequins.
“It was a good environment to be in where I was always studying and learned a lot about coaching and the game, but also about people and that’s the key to it.
“It was a great apprenticeship. Leeds had won a Grand Final (2004), lost a Grand final (2005) and in 2006 it was all about building again.
“We had a bit of a dodgy year but then kicked on and it was probably just keeping that team inspired at that time to push on and get some more success.”
They did just that, winning three successive Grand Final titles from 2007 as Cummins, who played more than 350 games for Leeds, grew into the role vacated by McDermott’s departure to the main job in London.
But now, of course, he is at the helm himself over at Bradford having completed his training there during the last two years before succeeding Mick Potter.
“I realised I had to go somewhere and prove myself like Mac did when he went down to London,” he added.
“I’m loving it. The main difference to being an assistant is probably the workload.
“That’s probably more so because of where Bradford was last year after the financial problems and how we had to then build it back up.
“There was just me and Stuart Duffy (PR, media and football manager) in the football department at one point but we put some things in place and got some good people in.
“You do notice it’s 24/7 though and it’s probably more on the phone – you are always contactable.
“That’s before you even start thinking about how your team is going to play.”
In that regard, though, Cummins has got his side doing very well indeed in the early part of the year, winning four of their opening eight games.
Their stride has been checked slightly by a 30-10 loss against Catalan but they will be bolstered tonight by the return of centre Keith Lulia, the Australian centre who was subject of a bid from Leeds last season, while Jamie Langley, a veteran of these derby occasions, will also augment Bradford’s pack.
The busy Easter period will test Cummins’s small squad but he has instilled a confidence in his players that they are capable of overcoming the champions.
A lot of that belief stems from the team spirit garnered during last year’s troubled times.
They were told they needed to find £1m to avoid going bust but a bumper Good Friday crowd of 20,851 turned up to Odsal to see them defeat Leeds 12-4 victory and – with new owner Omar Khan having since eased their financial fears – they are in a much healthier and positive spot.
“Twelve months on, we’re obviously in a better position,” added Cummins.
“It was a bit of a nightmare for everyone last year but I think those adverse times brought a lot of character out in us and that’s what’s fuelling us at the moment.
“We’re still carrying it with us but we are going to need the supporters behind us on Thursday, not just to support us but to send a message out as to where the club is.
“I want the fans to see just how far we have come at Bradford as a team and as a club in the past 12 months.”