NEVER let it be said John Kear does not like a challenge.
The veteran coach could be set for his most arduous yet after taking over at Bradford Bulls, World Club champions barely a decade ago but now preparing for an altogether different existence in League 1.
Admittedly, Kear did mastermind Sheffield Eagles’ famous Challenge Cup final defeat of Wigan in 1998, the competition’s biggest-ever shock, and plotted Wakefield Trinity’s escape from relegation in 2006 so he does have history with unlikely feats.
Indeed, it is one reason Bradford co-owner Andrew Chalmers opted for the Wales boss after sifting through 15 applicants for the role that became available once Australian Geoff Toovey, after relegation from the Championship, decided he would not return for a second year at Odsal.
But Kear, of course, has just enjoyed a fine season back at Wakefield where he operated as head of rugby assisting head coach Chris Chester, so it is a surprise to some that he has opted to leave that Super League job for the likely perils of third-tier football.
Bradford, for instance, are still dealing with the after-effects of being liquidated in January, principally the 12-point penalty deduction that led, in part, to that costly demotion.
However, the 63-year, who also led Hull FC to the 2005 Challenge Cup, admitted: “I absolutely love coaching and the opportunity to be head coach at an iconic club like this proved too much of a lure to turn down.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time returning to Wakefield and working with the people there. But the itch to coach has always been there. The challenge at Wakefield was a different one. It was great working alongside Chris Chester; that’s why it was so tough to leave.
“But they are in a great place with Chris as coach, and Michael Carter and Chris Brereton heading up the administration.
“I think I’ve left them in a good spot and the challenge here is completely different – and different to any I’ve had throughout my career. I’m excited and I’m looking forward to it.”
Kear only signed a new one-year contract with Trinity in August but they have now released him and he has penned a three-year deal at Bradford.
He will be assisted by Leigh Beattie, the loyal clubman who has served all manner of roles at Odsal in the last two decades while Lee Smith, the 31-year-old ex-Leeds Rhinos and England full-back, is appointed captain as Bulls bid to fight their way out of League 1 at the first attempt.
Kear added: “It’s important to have someone like Lee as captain. He’s had a great career and can bring that experience to the younger players.
“It’s up to guys like him and Ashley Gibson to put a marker down; they’re the standard-bearers, they’re the ones the youngsters can aspire to be like and I’m sure they’ll do a good job.
“All those League 1 clubs will have Bradford at the top of their hit-list. The likes of Keighley, Oldham, York, Workington, Whitehaven, Hunslet....they’ll be waiting for us and wanting to be the first club to turn us over.
“We’re fully aware we’ve got the ‘Wanted’ poster hanging over our head but we’ve got to handle that and use it to our advantage.
“The potential at this place is absolutely immense. It’s down to me to make sure we fulfil it and stabilise the club and get it moving in an upward direction again.
“There’s been a number of years here where it’s got worse and worse in terms of the performance side of things. That’s got to be arrested immediately and it’s vital the curve starts going back up. It isn’t a quick fix, it’s a long-term job and with the structures that are in place, within five, six or seven years, hopefully this club is back where the infrastructure and fanbase deserve it to be.”
New Zealander Chalmers, who took over the new club with Graham Lowe in January, said: “John was our first pick and we got him. His immediate goal is to get straight out of this division and then build our way through the promotion/relegation pathway into Super League. He’s a man with a lot of knowledge of the game who will offer a huge lift to the squad, especially the younger generation.”
Kear – who has just led Wales in the World Cup in Australia and Papua New Guinea – spent five years in charge of Championship club Batley Bulldogs before making his return to Belle Vue ahead of this last season.
He helped them reach fifth, narrowly missing out on the play-offs, and Trinity chairman Carter conceded: “I am very saddened to see John leave. We tried our very best to keep him, including offering him a further extension of his current contract. But I could see John was itching to get that head coach tag again. I’d never stand in the way of him doing that.
“I consider John a true friend and gentleman and that friendship will continue. John will be welcome back to Wakefield any time and I wish him and Bradford all the very best for the future.”
Trinity are now seeking an extra assistant to aid Chester who currently has Lee Gilmour – on a part-time basis – and Stuart Dickens in his coaching set-up.
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