Return of Bateman offers timely extra spring in Bulls’ step

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Remember the old cliché about a player returning from injury and the gaffer saying it felt like having a new £1m signing?

It does not quite work in rugby league terms – there has never been a transfer fee anywhere near seven figures for starters – but you could imagine Bradford Bulls head coach Francis Cummins felt that kind of sentiment when seeing John Bateman back on the pitch last Sunday.

He may be just 19 years old, but the dynamic second-row made such an impact in his breakthrough season last year that his absence ever since due to injury has been keenly felt.

Bateman, possibly England’s finest young forward talent, had to undergo a shoulder reconstruction during the winter, but it looked in full working order again as he rattled straight into Hull KR at the weekend.

He scored a try in the emphatic 34-12 win, made a series of charging runs and showed his customary steely defence too, meaning he boarded a plane for Barcelona yesterday in confident mood about his rehabilitation.

Resurgent Bradford, just three points off leaders Huddersfield heading into this weekend, face Catalan Dragons in Perpignan tonight for perhaps their biggest test yet. And Bateman, pictured right, feels ready for anything.

“It has been a long time but there’s nothing you can do about injuries at the end of the day,” he said, when talking about that much-anticipated return.

“I’m back now and actually feel a lot better than I was last year.

“I feel a lot fitter and I just need to get my match fitness back now and get going again.

“It’s always good to get out there and just to get back on the field with the lads once more. I was blowing a bit against Rovers but still felt really good and really enjoyed it.

“I ended up playing left back-row, right back-row and centre but it’s what you want to do for the team at the end of the day and that’s what Franny spoke about as we had a few injuries.

“It wasn’t about who was out but who was in the team and the people who were playing was the reason we won really.”

They will take that attitude with them again this evening.

Joint-captain Matt Diskin should return at hooker and the ever-reliable Chev Walker will be back to help ease the work-load in the back-row for Bateman, although the Bulls are still missing a raft of key personnel.

Catalan are undefeated in their previous five meetings with Bradford whose last win against the French outfit was 36-14 at Stade Aime Giral in April 2010.

However, they are upbeat about the chances of ending that drought and, for Bateman, the trip has particularly pleasant connotations.

“I didn’t go out there last year in our final game as I’d done my shoulder by then,” recalled the former England Academy captain.

“But I made my debut in Perpignan the season before so have happy memories of the place. It’s always good to get away there with the lads and we’re currently in the highest spot – third – we’ve been for years.

“We’re getting a few more players back soon, too, with Luke Gale and Ben Evans and we have to build on what we did against Rovers.

“It will be a tough game for us again, the same as last week but we need the same attitude as we’ve also got a tough Easter period to come too.”

Leeds Rhinos quickly arrive at Odsal on Thursday which has its obvious implications as Bradford do not travel back from France until tomorrow.

But Bateman – who was invited to the England elite training squad by Steve McNamara earlier this week – refuses to let that bother him and the Bradfordian is merely concentrating on producing another fully committed display in Perpignan.

It was noted how many young Bulls featured in the Rovers success, especially in their relatively callow pack which included Academy products Bateman, Tom Olbison, James Donaldson, Adam O’Brien and Jobe Murphy.

“At the beginning of the game, us forwards got together in a huddle and said ‘if we’re getting anything it’s got to come from us’,” he revealed.

“There was a lot of weight on our shoulders and when I looked around the average age of the lads must only have been about 20.

“But we stood up and played really well. We took advantage of the errors they were making, pressed them hard and got into them. It showed we can do it and it paid off. We got plenty of points through that tactic.”

Of course, Bateman’s comeback pales into insignificance compared to Adrian Purtell who returned after a heart attack.

“To see what he’s been though and still come back playing is just brilliant,” he said.

“He hasn’t changed one bit either. He’s still aggressive and just the same old Purts.”