19 Feb 2024


Part Two of CEO Jason Hirst's chat with the Telegraph and Argus was published over the weekend - you can now read in full below.


IN a 40-minute sit-down interview with the T&A a couple of weeks ago in his office at Odsal, Jason Hirst talked all things Bradford Bulls in his role as the club’s CEO.

Part one of our discussion surrounded the club’s finances and was published in the T&A a fortnight ago.

We kept you waiting for part two, but with Bulls facing a huge showdown at neighbours and rivals Keighley Cougars tomorrow, with only the winner making it through to the 1895 Cup quarter-finals, it felt like the right time to

Hirst discussed all sorts with us, including the progress that has been made since he came in as CEO in 2022, his relationship with Eamon O’Carroll, the importance of Lee Greenwood and Brian Noble, Brad England’s shock departure, bringing in the experience of John Davies and Dan Smith, and the need to make Odsal a fortress.

Hirst was run off his feet trying to put out the fires that existed in his first few months in charge, and he oversaw a squad overhaul in the winter of 2022.

The lifelong Bulls fan is still an extremely busy man in his role as CEO, but things are perhaps not quite as intense now.

He said: “I’ve been on record before as saying that, when I first came in as CEO, I was in fact-finding mode.

“My instinct told me that certain things needed to change, but I needed to take my time and review everything we were doing.

“We’ve made some changes, in personnel and culture, and it’s all been positive.

“I think we’re in a good place for this season, after making good progress throughout 2023, and fingers crossed that continues in 2024, for the first team and the other sides we run.”

Bulls were always keen to keep last year’s interim coaching duo Lee Greenwood and Brian Noble on board for 2024 and Hirst is delighted the pair have stayed put.in Cumbria. (Image: Tom Pearson.)

He said: “It was vitally important to keep the pair of them here, the board and I always believed that.

“To Eamon’s credit, he also saw the value of keeping Lee and Brian, and the pair of them remain integral to the first-team coaching set-up.

“Lee is Eamon’s assistant, and he brings great experience, having been a head coach at various levels, but he’s also got an understanding of this group, having acted as interim boss for much of last season.

“Brian brings a lot to the table too, having been there and done it at the highest level, like with Great Britain.

“Equally, he’s got the inside track on our players and what makes them tick, having worked with them last year.

“The combination of those two guys, alongside Eamon, who’s come in with fresh ideas and from a very successful set up at elite level with last year’s Super League runners up Catalans, means between the three of them, we’ve got all bases covered.”

Hirst is hopeful of Bulls covering all bases on the field too, and he knows the importance of having brought in experienced forwards John Davies and Daniel Smith over the winter.

He said: “I think in a tough, brutal sport like rugby league, you can’t have too many leaders.

“Ultimately, there’s one captain here, that’s Michael Lawrence, and one vice-captain in Jordan Lilley.

“But John for example, he’s a talker who’s been there and done it at Championship level.

“He’s a consistent performer and he’s over the age of 30, so he’s been there and learnt from others..)

“He brings a lot to the table in terms of his talk.

“Equally, Dan Smith has played virtually all of his career at Super League level.

“He’s playing in the front row, when it doesn’t get much tougher than that, and again he’s got lots of experience and makes good contributions.

“He’s not talking all the time, but it’s certainly quality over quantity in terms of bringing in players like them.”

Hirst added: “In terms of signings as a whole, if we include Huddersfield lending us Aidan McGowan for the season and Dan Okoro, who only played for us once on loan in 2023, I think we’ve brought in seven players over the winter.

“We’ve done our homework on all of them, with some of those signings happening quicker than others.

“No signing is an exact science and it’s always a calculated gamble to some extent, because a player can perform really well at one club and then, for whatever reason, it doesn’t always work out at another.

“But we’ve done our due diligence and we’re really happy with every player we’ve signed and retained.

“We think we’re in a good place, but recruitment and retention never stops here.

“A few hours before this interview, I was in this office with Eamon speaking about recruitment, and we’re still on the lookout for new players.

“But it’s got to be the right player for the right value, we don’t just want to bring players in for the sake of it.

“We want to get new faces in to add more depth, but it’s important they’re not just squad players.

“They have to be good value for money, because we won’t pay over the odds for players.”

And Bulls are actively on the lookout for a replacement in the back row, after the shock departure of Brad England to Featherstone Rovers last month..)

Hirst said: “It wasn’t ideal to lose a player so close to the start of the season, but it’s happened to Bradford and other clubs before, and it’ll happen again.

“Brad was an integral part of this club and squad for three or four years. He was a good player and that remains the case.

“But there’s no hidden story with him, it’s exactly as reported.

“Brad came to Eamon and I and asked to be released from his contract to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

“From talking to Brad, we recognised that was the best thing for him and the best thing for the club.

“We move on, but we wish Brad all the very best and we leave on good terms.

“He’ll always be welcome at Odsal, he knows that, and I’ve spoken to him a couple of times since his move to Featherstone.

“He’s a loss for us, but it frees up some money in the budget for us to bring in a replacement, which is what we’re looking to do.”

Any potential replacement will get five-star treatment from Hirst and O’Carroll, with many of the new signings over the winter stressing the importance of the pair when it came to influencing their decision to sign.

Hirst said: “I think it’s vital in any role that you have good, strong, key relationships with people.

“I have lots of those with people who work for Bradford Bulls, but in every case, some relationships are even more important because of your respective roles.

“So right up there at the top of my relationships, as a rugby league club’s CEO, is the one I have with the first-team head coach.

“I think it’s absolutely vital that the CEO, not to mention the board and the whole club, back the coach and support him as much as we can and as much as he wants us to.

“Eamon and I had never met until we interviewed him for the head coach role last year, but the two of us have struck up a really good relationship since then.

“It’s open and honest, and Eamon doesn’t just tell me what I want to hear, and I value that.

“In this CEO role, I don’t want people telling me what they think I want to hear, I want to hear the truth and people’s honest opinions.

“If we’re going to be successful as a club and get back to Super League, which is what we’re aiming for, it’s vital that Eamon and I have that key relationship.

“It’s a two-way process, we both ask for honesty from each other, and we respect one another.

“Our focus is on the task in hand, which is the first team being successful.

“It’s a flourishing relationship that we have, but there’s already a lot of mutual respect and trust there.

“That relationship between us will only get stronger the longer we work together.”

Something else that needs to get stronger is Bulls’ record at Odsal, which was woeful in 2022 and nearly derailed their play-off push at the end of last season.

Hirst said: “It is important to us, and I was actually looking at a slide presentation up at Tong the other week which detailed our home record from 2023.

“It was 13 league games, eight wins, four losses and one draw, and it took me back a bit, because if you’d asked me before I’d seen that, I’d have said we had a better record than that at Odsal.ls' play-off spot in real danger. (Image: Tom

“While that was a vast improvement on our record here in 2022, and a step in the right direction, it’s not where we want to be as a club.

“It’s not where Eamon wants to be either and we’ve spoken to each other about improving our home record this season, which comes down to consistency.

“There are some internal targets too, which will stay between Eamon and the players, but if we are more consistent, we’ll be more successful.”

Hirst added: “That’s a challenge for our team to be more consistent.

“I’ve got good, professional relationships with the players, where I can go and talk to them, and they can come up and talk to me.

“That’s just one small part of creating a good buzz around the place, as well as a good environment and a good culture.

“Success in business and sport, a good part of it is relationships.”

Bulls can build the platform for success in the 1895 Cup and Challenge Cup early this year, and could find themselves in the semi-finals of the former and the sixth round of the latter by the time they kick off their Betfred Championship campaign at title favourites Wakefield Trinity in mid-March.

Last season, Bulls’ first competitive game was in the league, whereas they have to wait an age this year.

Asked if that bothered him, Hirst insisted: “I’m really pragmatic about it, because I don’t worry about things that are out of my control.

“The season structure is determined by the RFL and this year, it starts with around two months of cup matches.

“Like with anything in life, there are pros and cons.

“But I personally think it’ll help us, in terms of generating a buzz.

“If we are successful in the 1895 Cup, starting with getting out of the group stage, and if we beat both North Wales and Widnes in the Challenge Cup, that takes us towards the start of the league season.

“That’s building momentum within the first team, and winning breeds confidence, so that can only help us.

“Equally, it can create a buzz externally if we do well in those cups, and by that, I mean among the fanbase and sponsors.

“By and large, I think the season structure works well for us this year, though ultimately that will come down to results.

“If we are still in both cup competitions by the time we visit Wakefield for our first league game on March 15, there will be momentum, confidence and a buzz there.

“But it’s a results-based business, and if we are dumped out of one or both of those competitions by mid-March, the buzz might not be as good as it would be if we were still in both.”