Bradford half-back Jordan Lilley believes the club are now moving in the right direction and can challenge in an ‘open’ Championship race next season.
Following the departure of chairman Andrew Chalmers in October, money problems threatened to derail the Bulls before they were rescued by former RFL chief Nigel Wood.
In a takeover deal that also included Dewsbury chairman Mark Sawyer and Toronto Wolfpack founder Eric Perez, the club have been able to manage crippling costs and move out of special measures.
This has allowed head coach John Kear to slowly build a competitive squad for 2020 and Bulls’ playmaker Lilley is delighted the situation has been resolved.
“Obviously the takeover is good for everyone,” he said. “The Bradford Bulls are a big iconic team with a massive fan base, so it’s good to see we’re being backed now and hopefully we can get some stability and progress up the league.
“A lot of players have left but we’re just taking every day as it comes. We’re working hard to get ourselves in the best possible shape to give this year the best shot we can.
“We are all determined to take the club back where it belongs. Bradford have been in a dark place and the aim is to be playing top-flight rugby again.”
The Bulls will play their home games at Dewsbury’s Tetley’s Stadium next season after it became financially unsustainable to remain at Odsal.
Money issues also forced the sale of five key players to Hull KR at the end of October, however, recent weeks have provided renewed optimism with Wood pledging to get the ‘Bulls back to Bradford’.
This, coincided with the signings of Anthony England, Sam Barlow, Levy Nzoungou and Greg Johnson, has Lilley believing the four-time Super League champions can challenge for promotion.
“Pre season is going very well,” he explained. “All the lads are ripping in and buying into the ambition of the club.
“The new boys have fit seamlessly into the squad and provided everyone with that extra boost. We are all excited to get stuck into the new season now.
“If you look at the Championship this season it is an open race. It’s always very competitive, but this year more than any other I think has people second guessing.
“Most of the teams have recruited really well knowing this and I think it will be an exciting and unpredictable season. Anyone could be promoted at the end of the year.”
On a personal front it’s no secret that Lilley has had his own challenges, ever since lining up as a 19-year-old for Leeds in the 2016 World Club Challenge against Johnathan Thurston’s North Queensland Cowboys.
That year saw Leeds-born Lilley have a consistent run in the Rhinos side, but after losing his place, he was sent out on loan to Featherstone and then to Bradford, where he remained until signing permanently.
Now 23, the Stanningley junior admits needing the support of those around him to help overcome the mental challenges he faced during a tough period at his boyhood club.
“Obviously that had a big affect on me. I went from playing 23 games one year to three the year after so it was a bit of a setback, but you have these moments in professional sport.
“You just have to bounce back and give it your all. I’m lucky I’ve got the best people around me who really supported me and made me the person I am today.
“I owe my mum and dad everything. Looking back I wouldn’t change anything about my life. My dream with Leeds didn’t work out but it doesn’t mean the dream to be in Super League is over.
“I’ll keep working hard and see where I end up in the future. Looking back I’d probably tell myself to keep going through all the adversity and that it wasn’t the end of the world.”
Lilley’s lack of opportunities at Leeds were well documented in May when he produced a man-of-the-match performance to help Bradford knock his former club out of the Challenge Cup.
Since departing Headingley, it has been a steady transition into part-time rugby for Lilley who has paid tribute to the role of John Kear in helping him settle down.
“When I left Leeds I obviously looked about, but ever since I joined Bradford John Kear has been brilliant and he really sold the vision to me.
“I feel really settled at the moment. I bought my own house two years ago, set up my own business a few months back and signed a two-year deal with Bradford.
“I’ve got an amazing, supportive family and girlfriend and they’ve really helped me with everything. I just want to keep progressing and see where it takes me.”