Gerry Sutcliffe applauds RFL decision to hand Bradford Bulls Championship chance

Published: Wednesday 4th January 2017 by The News Editor

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Former sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe has applauded the decision of the Rugby Football League to give a new Bradford club the chance to continue in the Kingstone Press Championship.

The four-time Super League champions were liquidated on Tuesday after administrators failed to find a buyer for the debt-ridden club but have been given the go-ahead to reform ahead of the new season, which starts in a month’s time.

Instead of starting at the bottom of the three-tier professional set-up in League 1, Bradford will continue in the Championship and Sutcliffe believes they deserve to be made a special case.

“It’s a great name in rugby league, the city has strong rugby league-related traditions and, obviously with having the museum in Bradford, you’d want a professional club to be there,” said Sutcliffe, who was Member of Parliament for Bradford South up to the last general election.

“Rugby league and the game needs all its constituents and Bradford is still a big name. Even with 4,000 supporters, they add value to the game and I think it’s right that they start in the Championship.”

Along with local businessman Omar Khan, Sutcliffe helped bring the Bulls out of their first administration in 2012 but they handed over the reins within 12 months.

He does not intend to get involved again, though, and admits questions need to be asked over the management of the club over the last five years.

“I did my bit the last time around,” he added. “It was very difficult at that time as well. It’s a pity because there is a hard core of loyal fans that support the club.

“I think Judith Cummins, the local MP, is right to say that people should be asking questions about what happened and why it happened.

“It’s a very sad situation that the club finds itself in. It’s a club with a rich history but from time to time it’s had these problems – 1964, 1985 and now again over these last few years so it’s sad that it’s turned out this way.

“But I hope new bidders can come in and try and resolve it as soon as possible.”

If they are successful in re-forming, Bradford will have to contend with a 12-point deduction, effectively killing off their hopes of winning promotion to Super League for 2018, and a heavy reduction in central funding but h ead coach Rohan Smith says he is up for the fight and a consortium headed by London businessman Richard Lamb has already signalled its intention to bid for the new club.

Lamb, the current chief executive of Rotherham rugby union club, who was unsuccessful in bids to bring Bradford out of their last two periods of administration, has formed an alliance with former Cronulla Sharks chief executive Damian Irvine to take on the challenge of restoring the fortunes of the one-time world club champions.

“The opportunity to now build a fresh Bradford Bulls is immense,” Lamb said. “It’s got a fantastic support base, a great history and now, free of some the shackles it has had over the last few years, w e can rebuild Bradford Bulls into a great club.”

The RFL, which suspended Bradford’s membership of the league, is seeking offers and hope the new club can be up and running well before the Bulls’ scheduled opening league game against Hull KR on February 5.

Smith, son of former Bradford coach Brian Smith, joined the club on a three-year contract last May and is open to staying if he is wanted by the new owners.

“I would love the opportunity to continue on if the new owners and the new management and I have the same beliefs and can work together,” said Smith.

“I didn’t come for a short-term fix. I knew it would take a lot of effort and time to build the club from the bottom up.”

On top of their points handicap, Bradford are sure to lose players, with James Clare and Kris Welham both thought to have secured moves to Super League clubs, but Smith remains undaunted and is confident he could assemble a competitive team for the start of the new campaign.

“It’s a very big penalty but it will depend on the ambition of the owners and the strength of the roster we end up with,” Smith said.

“I imagine the vast majority of players would want to stay. Many have told me today they are not interested in going anywhere else.”

Published: Wednesday 4th January 2017 by The News Editor

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