It has been a year to forget for most at the Bradford Bulls.
I say most, because it’s also been a season where a good crop of young players at the club have featured heavily and gained some much needed experience.
Yes, they’ve got the dreaded ‘R’ next to their name on the league table but it may not be all doom and gloom in League 1 for Bradford.
James Bentley and Ethan Ryan, the big success stories in the Bradford squad, could find themselves at another club in 2018 due to their eye-catching performances but there are others that have gone under the radar somewhat and deserve recgonition.
Prop forward Liam Kirk has been one of the most consistent performers for Bradford this season, according to coach Geoff Toovey. If he stays put at the Bulls, he will be one of the best forwards in League 1 next year and his game will grow even further. 25 matches for Bradford is good going for the youngster.
Fellow forward Brandan Wilkinson hasn’t featured in as many games as Kirk but he is another academy product who has been able to show his worth thanks to Bradford’s current situation. He has made 12 appearances and will be aiming to better that total next season.
It hasn’t been easy for Reiss Butterworth to break into the team. The half-back has been kept out by the likes of Joe Keyes, Cory Aston, Oscar Thomas and Dane Chisholm but the young star certainly made a name for himself in pre-season. He provided a wonder assist in the friendly against Huddersfield which got rave reviews on social media. When Aston returns to Leeds next season, Butterworth may get his chance in League 1 and I’d expect him to snap it up with both hands.
Winger Josh Rickett has also been unfortunate to be competing against some talented players. He made one appearance in 2016 for the Bulls, in a Championship Shield clash against Workington Town. This season, Rickett has played twice and both have been recently. The final game of the regular season against Swinton was his second professional appearance and he didn’t have to wait long for his next as he played against Toulouse in the Shield opener. Expect to see more of Rickett before the season is out.
Two players who were also named in the first team squad, Brandon Pickersgill and Keenen Tomlinson, found themselves out on loan at London Skolars earlier on in the campaign. Pickersgill played four games for the Skolars, scoring two tries, while Tomlinson got on the scoresheet once in two matches. It may have been a short loan period but the experience of League 1 will stand them in good stead if they’re called upon.
Bradford’s youth academy has always been one of their strong points. They need it now more than ever as they move to the third tier of rugby league. There will be a lot of League 1 teams wanting to pick up the scalp of Bradford, just because of the name. The youngsters will be challenged against some experienced players but their effort this year cannot be criticised.