IT WON’T be the same next season without at least a couple of derbies against Bradford Bulls to look forward to.
I think it is a shame they are going to be relegated at the end of this year. Bulls were one of the biggest clubs in the game not so long ago and their fall from grace has been as sad as it was spectacular.
We have had some great battles with the Bulls during the time I’ve been playing. Some of my best memories in the sport are of playing in West Yorkshire derbies at Headingley or Odsal in front of 20,000 crowds.
From 2003-2005 they were probably the biggest games in British rugby league and it is unfortunate the mess Bradford have got themselves into over the last few years.
I don’t know the ins and outs of what has happened, but I feel for the fans who have stayed loyal and the players and staff there.
I think the club’s board have taken the right decision not to go to the High Court to contest the six-point deduction for entering administration.
There’s only so many times you can fight a losing battle. The original decision and the appeal both went against them and the time has come for them to try and put it behind them and move forward. Realistically, even if they got the six points back, they would have too much ground to make up on the teams above them.
On the positive side, maybe it will turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Castleford, Huddersfield and Widnes have all dropped down a level and come back stronger and hopefully Bradford can do the same.
Obviously they will be looking to bounce straight back and retaining players like Dale Ferguson and Lee Gaskell is a good start, but it won’t be easy.
London Broncos have said they are going to stay full-time next year and teams like Leigh, Featherstone and Halifax are all strengthening, so I think the Championship will be a much tougher competition in 2015.
With the new format, Bulls will need to finish in the top-four of the Championship and then the top-four of the middle tier of eight teams to get back into the top-flight and I imagine that is going to be a real battle – especially if teams at the bottom end of Super League strengthen as well.
A few seasons ago we played Bradford five or six times in various competitions and it will be a shock looking at the fixture list and not seeing their name on it.
I don’t know who we’ll end up playing at Easter, but judging by last week, matches against Castleford could take over as our big derby.
The Jungle is one of my favourite places to play and our games against Cas have always been big, but now both teams are up near the top of the table and fighting each other for honours, it has gone up a level.
Last week was a great game to play in and I imagine it must have been a good one to watch. It was really fast and intense and there was a fantastic atmosphere.
It was a bit like playing in a semi-final and the more matches like that we have in a season, the better it is for the teams involved and the sport as a whole.
OUR NEXT two games are crucial, beginning away to Salford Red Devils tonight.
We are building up to the Challenge Cup semi-final against Warrington and while we don’t want to look too far ahead, we have got to be playing well and winning going into that huge game.
Also, of course, we are still in the hunt for top spot in the table and we can’t afford to drop many more points if we are going to achieve that. Salford have found a bit of form over the last few weeks and they are starting to play like everyone expected them to at the start of the year, when they were being tipped for the top-eight.
They signed more or less an entire new team in the off-season and it was always going to take time for them to gel and find their form, but they seem to have done that now and tonight will be a tough challenge. They are at home, they will want to put a show on in front of their own fans and they probably can’t afford to lose more than one game from now on if they are going to get into the play-offs.
All that means we are going to have to play really well, but it is important we get back to winning ways. It is not ideal circumstances. We are missing Kev Sinfield and we have got one or two injury concerns, but we have to improve.
I think we are heading in the right direction, but the way we are playing at the moment won’t be good enough when we come to the really big games.
I thought last week against Cas we were very good in patches and we probably should have come away with the two points, but we conceded a few soft tries and that’s an area we need to tidy up.
We can’t afford to be soft defensively against a team with the sort of strike power Salford have in their ranks and we know if we clock off against a player like Rangi Chase, we’ll find ourselves standing at the back of our posts.
In the last couple of weeks our attack has steadily improved, but there’s still a long way to go and a lot to work on. We have not had a settled one-six-seven recently, but having Zak Hardaker back has given us a real lift and he’s only going to get better over the next few weeks.
Rob Burrow and Paulie Aiton have both been out long-term and it will take them a few games to get back into their stride and with Kev suspended, it means we’ll have another change at half-back. If we can get our game together for the full 80 we are going to be a tough team to beat, whoever we play.
PLAYING MORE than 500 games without getting into any sort of trouble with the disciplinary is a fantastic achievement.
It is a real shame Kevin Sinfield, above, has lost his clean record following his red card last week, but it was just one of those things that sometimes happens in a game. Contact was made, but it wasn’t what I’d consider to be a headbutt. I think Kev was just going to go face-to-face with Luke Dorn – a bit like boxers do at a weigh-in, but it went a little wrong.
It probably looked worse on TV than it actually was. No harm was done physically and I know Kev was gutted to be sent-off and felt he had let the boys down. These things happen in the heat of battle. Everybody loses their cool now and again and I think it’s remarkable Kev has gone so long without it happening. People saying the RFL should have thrown the book at him ought to bear that in mind.
It is disappointing he will miss the next two games, but the good thing is he will be available for the Challenge Cup semi-final. A lot has been made of it, probably because it was so unexpected, but it’s done with now and time to move on.