Having had a very turbulent 2012, followed with more financial problems in 2013 the Bradford Bulls are in the process of rebuilding.
With the loss of key players in Elliot Whitehead, Keith Lulia, Jamie Langley, John Bateman and Heath L’Estrange the situation could be considered desperate, and is compounded by the loss of the Bulls youngsters in Whitehead, Naughton and Bateman means a big blow for the club in terms of up and coming stars and the future.
But transfers have not been just one-way and the Bulls have recruited well in the off season despite the well publicised off-field troubles with new signings Gareth Carvell, Dale Ferguson, Matty Blythe (now on a permanent deal), Luke George, Lee Gaskell and Adam Henry the Bulls with have accumulated a lot more strength in depth this year.
Bradford should be looking to compete to get into the top eight for the first time since 2008.
The main problem that Francis Cummins faces as coach is to fill the all important hooking position. With Matt Diskin running out of steam and failing to make his old trade mark runs from dummy half to catch the markers offside. The Bulls have got a lot of competition in this position with the likes of Adam O’Brien and the West Bowling ARLFC product in Nathan Conroy who made his debut against the Giants in round 27 of Superleague 2013.
The big question will be, can O’Brien be a hit this season and make an impact for the Bulls in a supporting role to Diskin after being third choice hooker last season?
The Bulls forward pack still looks strong and one to watch will be Gareth Carvell who will bring a lot of experience to the side as well as taking some of the pressure off Nick Scruton. Add Manuokafoa, one of the most consistent performers for the Bulls last season and Dale Ferguson and Tom Olbison in the second row and there is scope for a pack which can compete.
Ferguson will make plenty of metres, and you cannot forget that this second rower has a try scoring pedigree and the potential to be a game winner. Danny Addy had an outstanding world cup with Scotland and has added versatility to his strengths as a player over the last season. Addy will need to take more of an active role in play-making as loose forward in 2014 and this could see him develop into a Sinfield/O Loughlin type of player.
Supporting the big names in the pack will be the likes of James Donaldson, Walker, and Sidlow who all bring Superleague experience.
The Bulls backs are looking very strong in the backs and they have got a range of players to pick from.
Consistent fullback Brett Kearney will provide a big threat if he can keep injury free and the Bulls have Elliot Kear who could fill in at fullback after a good campaign in 2013. The other backs include; Blythe, Purtell, Foster, George, Henry and Wood.
Although Blythe was plagued with injuries last year, he was solid for the Bulls when he did play, not a regular try scorer but an extremely good work rate who should have a starting spot. Purtell, after recovering from a heart attack, has made great strides and all credit to the guy because he has been through a lot but has made it back into the first team. This is the season he needs to prove himself to the Bradford fans as he has still not realised his full potential.
Jamie Foster is an amazing kicker, possibly one of the best in Superleague because of his reliability. He also proved himself capable of scoring tries, however, the only critisism is that he needs to get stronger and able to retain the metres he makes. Luke George the new arrival from local neighbours the Huddersfield Giants and will face a tough challenge to get a starting spot. He has got the ability, outstanding pace, and finishing qualities but will need to overcome some of the defensive frailties which he exhibited at the Giants.
An unknown quantity is Adam Henry who played at Sydney Roosters in the feeder teams league where he will have trained with the best players in the World with. Videos of him (popular media sharing sites) show that he could be a good buy for the Bulls, but whether he can stand up to Superleague standard is what everyone’s wondering. He seems as if he has a lot of pace and is a strong player with a good offload which is what the Bulls need following the departure of Keith Lulia. Last, but not least, is youngster Sam Wood who had a great game against Wigan at the DW stadium, with a lot of further development and first team action he could be a real star for the future.
The half backs are also strong for the 2014 season. Jarrod Sammut with his maverick style of play is a very special and valuable player to the Bulls along with England academy star Luke Gale who is tipped to be very good for the future. Lee Gaskell is also available and it will be a very tough choice for coach Francis Cummins to decide who his half-back pairing will be. Gaskell is a very skilled player and will provide that extra strength in depth at half-back, a luxury which most clubs won’t have.
My prediction is that the Bulls will finish seventh or eighth as there is a lot more competition this time round with the likes of Salford Red Devils, with their star signings, another side desperate for a top eight finish. Hull KR will be challenging with their tremendous forwards pack and other teams such as Castleford, Widnes, and Wakefield have all strengthened.
It will be a tough task for the Bulls but with the squad above it is certainly possible.