SOMETIMES THINGS happen in rugby league which leave sensible people scratching their heads.
Bradford Bulls’ decision this week to sack coach Francis Cummins and his assistant Lee St Hilaire was one of those.
The axe fell out of the blue, a day after a costly defeat at Salford Red Devils which pushed Bradford a step closer to the Kingstone Press Championship.
And it was made as Bulls were still coming to terms with the loss of their appeal against a six-point deduction imposed as a punishment for entering administration.
It is the latest twist in a saga which has been dragging on for more than two years and in public relations terms, Bulls have knocked-on.
Cummins joined Bradford, originally as assistant-coach, at the end of the 2010 season after leaving a similar role at Leeds Rhinos. He stepped into the hot seat last year and has worked under the toughest of circumstances, for several different owners, with very few resources and at times going unpaid.
Cummins’ loyalty when the money ran out and his ability to keep his players’ focus on rugby and to galvanise them at a time when they didn’t know where the next pay packet would be coming from earned him many admirers.
Of course, there’s no such thing as loyalty in sport. Nobody would expect Cummins or St Hilaire to have a job for life, but their treatment seems particularly harsh considering what they have been through and most mystifying is the timing.
Bulls say they want a change of direction. If the decision was made based on results and in a bid for Super League survival, surely it would have been done weeks ago, when there was still hope.
More realistically, they need to be looking to rebuild for next year’s Championship campaign, in which case Cummins deserved an opportunity to show what he could do.
Nobody seriously believes Bulls are where they are now – second from bottom in the table and eight points adrift of relegation rivals Wakefield Trinity Wildcats – because of the coach.
Their current plight is due to years of poor decisions off the field, beginning with the signing of Iestyn Harris a decade ago.
Without relegation, Cummins may well still have been in a job. Desperate times call for desperate measures and it’s worth noting that the bottom four teams in Super League have all had a change of coach this season.
It’s too early to say whether there will be any on-field improvement at Wakefield, who did win their opening game under James Webster last weekend.
But it hasn’t done much good at either Salford, who picked up one victory in their last nine games, or London.
Broncos’ loss at Wakefield six days ago was their 16th straight defeat this season, setting a new record as the worst-ever start to a Super League campaign.
London should actually have beaten Wildcats, having led 10-4 well into the second half and their performances have improved under Joe Grima, but not enough to save them from the drop.
Realistically, it is too late for Bulls,who need to win at least half their remaining games – and that’s assuming Wakefield fail to collect more victories.
Cummins is still a novice coach and he has clearly made mistakes during his stint in charge at Bradford, but he was well thought of at Leeds and did a good job in the most testing of circumstances during his season and a half at the Bulls helm.
Hopefully he will bounce back and as a role model he only has to look across West Yorkshire to his former team-mate and coach Daryl Powell, who is doing such a good job at Castleford Tigers, 11 years after having the rug pulled out from under him at Leeds.