9th May 2019, 21:27
There is no bigger DERBY in rugby league. ON THE PLANET.
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And so the great day is nearly upon us. Bradford Bulls v Leeds Rhinos in our Challenge Cup clash, broadcast live to the nation. How good does that sound and what an opportunity for us all to put our best show on. Everyone has been telling me that Leeds v Bradford is the modern titanic derby. Obviously only being here a short time I can only listen to experienced judges, but I am totally persuaded it is true. The BBC has chosen this game as first pick for their coverage, and that has not gone unnoticed and is evidence as to how the match will be viewed. There will no doubt be columns and columns written about this game and that is all great. The history, tradition, match ups, the former Leeds players we have in our team; there are so many aspects and perspectives to this.
Of course at this time, we are also celebrating the 2003 Cup Final when the Bulls edged out the Rhinos, 22-20 at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. We should also reflect upon a 24-18 win in 2000 in Scotland when apparently the match was nearly flooded off. I’m tempted to add that the Bulls, then known as Bradford Northern got home 8-4 in 1947 at Wembley; if anyone was there, please get in touch! So three finals, three Bulls wins, in three different capitals in the UK. That’s got a nice ring to it.
We are certainly under no illusions, as we start the countdown to kick off as second favourites in a two team race. I don’t know the bookmakers odds but I suspect they will have the Rhinos in front of us by some margin. Don’t let any league placing distract you. Whilst we came up short against Toronto on Saturday in Canada, I think the score line flattered a very strong Toronto in the second half. I think Leeds will be comparable to the Wolfpack in strength. Both clubs have strong Super League quality outfits. Both boasting strong experienced line ups.
I’m also told there is a lot of bad blood between the two clubs. In particular the Iestyn Harris law suit that drove a wedge between the two clubs some time ago, which some say was the start of the decline for the Bulls. Well I’d like to say that, in the 846 days since I’ve arrived at Bradford, Leeds have been cordial neighbours. Our aim is to restore the annual derby, and to help to build rugby league in this part of the country. Let us hope we have a classic fixture, settled by brilliance not controversy. But make no mistake cordial or otherwise, our objective is to #BeatLeeds.
At the start of the year when I made my predictions for 2019, you may recall that I thought the Summer Bash would go from strength to strength, and the Super League Magic event would go the opposite way. Well the day of reckoning will shortly be upon us and I remain convinced of my earlier prediction. Our #BullsNation will make Summer Bash, and the Saturday Night live fixture against Halifax will make a great advertisement for Championship Rugby League. Blackpool will be rocking and the Bulls faithful will make it simply a great occasion. The concept of Bash as a day or weekend out, call it what you will, is a proven vote winner, although I wish they hadn’t scheduled our Toronto game the week before!
Even though there are some pretty challenging followings for some clubs within Championship, it will still provide a season highlight. An out of the ordinary venue, a destination location and a chance for the Championship to show its true worth. There will be the odd one-sided game that has to be aired but basically the RFL has rightfully stuck to the formula of choosing derbies for Bash and that is what supporters need to tempt them to invest their hard earned pounds in a trip to Blackpool. The Bulls v Halifax taps into the natural rivalry, as does Dewsbury v Batley, Rochdale and Swinton and the other match ups. We have even got Toronto v Toulouse, 1v2 in the ladder which again should make for compelling watching.
My prediction for Bash is, wins for Swinton, Toulouse, Featherstone, the Bulls on Saturday and Barrow, Dewsbury and Widnes although either of the last two fixtures could be a draw!! Great fixtures each and every one. It seems to me that this is fundamental, which is why I am convinced and afraid that the Super League equivalent will not generate the same success. It’s not that Liverpool is a poor choice; it may be a great location I simply don’t know; but the clubs, and I do mean the clubs, not the RFL, have chosen to keep back their best match ups for themselves.
They have chosen to do this to justify the crazy loopy fixtures introduced this year. So for instance instead of a titanic Hull derby; we will be treated to Hull v Huddersfield and Salford v Hull KR. This is the kind of loopy decision you get when the clubs suit themselves. They all try and find opponents where they think they can win irrespective and forget about producing a block buster schedule. Let’s wait and see.
And you know what happens next, supporters are not tempted to go in the same numbers. Instead of having the humility to accept that they stuffed up, this years predicted low attendance will get the neigh-sayers clamouring to bin the concept, saying it doesn’t work….let’s have a 9’s tournament instead. And then like the Million Pound Game before it, the SL clubs will have destroyed another wonderful and commercially attractive Rugby League event. How much more commercial pain can the sport cope with? Anyway that’s for the Super League Chairmen and Robert Elstone to worry about.
It is no coincidence the NRL have seen what the event could and should look like and are following the RFL’s lead and introducing a Magic round of their own in Brisbane. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery they say, not that our Aussie friends will ever acknowledge that the British game conceived it.
Get along to witness your team battle it out in a historic Challenge Cup derby on Saturday afternoon. This has all the hall marks of a real struggle and we are predicting our largest crowd for many years. Which will be great for the club and our sport. No doubt about the greatest derby in rugby league living up to its hype. The Bulls need to tackle the Rhinos head on with the help of the best fan army in rugby league. Help your team #BeatLeeds.
See you Saturday afternoon at Odsal Stadium. Gates open from 11.00am with the first game being the Bradford v Leeds U19 Academy match. Kick off for the main game is at 2.30pm. Allow plenty of time to enter on match day. Get your tickets from the Bulls Club Shop or online at www.bradfordbulls.co.uk/tickets. #COYB #BullsNation #BeatLeeds.