Bradford Bulls on the charge in 2009

Alleged financial problems, their supporters drifting away, as well as injuries to key players last season all contributed to a fairly dismal season – by their standards – last year for the Bradford Bulls.nnBut this season is a chance of opportunity for Steve McNamara to get his side back within the leading fold and break the dominance of St Helens and Leeds, following their worst positional finish since the advent of Super League.nnIt is fair to say that the Bulls have struggled with a lack of cohesion in the halfback positions, arguably the most important positions – considering the influence and skill needed – on a rugby field. While Iestyn Harris and Paul Deacon had years of experience to vouch for between them, it was Harris’ lack of real pace and Deacon’s injuries that prohibited any chance of a settled side.nnThis led to second-row David Solomona reverting to an unorthodox stand-off position, which, while not unusual, was definitely something they could have perhaps done without.nnAnd it could also be argued that since Lesley Vainikolo quit the code to join rugby union, the Bulls have struggled to retain the attacking prowess, speed and power that ‘Volcano’ had.nnBut as with all new seasons begins a new era, and without a shadow of a doubt coach McNamara has gone for quality and experience.nnGreg Bird – visa permitting – is a substantial investment and will be without a doubt the key player for the Bulls this season. He has all the qualities to push Bradford back into the limelight for silverware.nnAnd joining him will be NRL winner Steve Menzies, a consummate professional and leader. He may be 35-years old, but he still has the quality to ensure Bradford’s pack remains one of the strongest, dangerous and most attacking.nnJoining him in the pack will be ex-Leeds Rhinos prop Nick Scruton, who will have the hard job replacing Joe Vagana, who has retired.nnMcNamara said of Scruton in September: “Nick’s young, English and has got a great deal of ambition, while he still has plenty of improvement in him.”nnThis could see Scruton – if he plays well – pushed into the England fold, following the Bulls development of their coaching structure. Not only this, but also their ability to develop some top quality youngsters, such as Sam Burgess.nnBradford amalgamated their squad with two acquisitions from Harlequins, with Michael Worrincy and Rikki Sheriffe completing their transfer activity.nnBoth have undeniable talent, however, whether they can offer the Bulls what they need in terms of quality remains to be seen. nnThey have stood out in the ‘Quins line-up for a while, and their availability obviously alerted McNamara.nnWhile they are not the world beaters, they are the players that often go unnoticed by fans. They are the finishers, the grafters and the tacklers.nnWhile the Bulls have lost some key players, they have invested in some really talented players, and this will thrust them challenging for honours once more.nnWhether they can sustain the pressure long enough remains to be seen, but they will be in the play-off mix once more, and their recruitment, compared to other Super League outfits, has been adequate for the purpose – to win the league.nnMark’s prediction: 4th in League, Challenge Cup Semi-Finalists.nnPlayer to Watch in 2009: Greg BirdnnFan’s view:nn The Bradford fan’s view is written courtesy of Mike Lofthouse, a University of Hull student, from Bradford. nnThere’s been some astute buisness this year from the Bulls on the transfer market that I believe will put them in a really good position to challenge Leeds for top spot in 2009. nnThe capture of Steve Menzies is perhaps the most important of the pre season signings for the Bulls. The Aussie superstar’s super fitness and tireless workrate will be of massive benefit to the Bulls who at times seemed to tire last season. Most importantly however he’ll bring some leadership to the Bulls outfit, something they obviously lacked for long periods last season.nnAs well as signing the experienced Menzies, the Bulls have signed a group of senior players all under the age of 24 that is headed by recent Kangaroo player Greg Bird, who will no doubt be at the forefront of the Bulls attack this year, visa permitting. nnThe Bulls seem to be moving towards the idea that ultra fit, ultra mobile forwards are key to any success, and I don’t think anybody can argue that the Bulls pack is more streamlined than in recent years. This should give the Bulls that bit extra that will allow them to get to the end of tough games without tiring too badly towards the end, something many argue has been missing in recent seasons. nnHopefully Paul Deacon (with a clean bill of health) and Bird can get behind the pack and feed some quality ball to the three quarters. Whilst not the fastest three quaters, the Bulls backs are definatley amongst the most powerful, and I believe that if the forwards and half backs can get them in good position then the backs have what is needed to take us over the line.nnOverall the Bulls squad is looking a lot better than the recent few seasons, with some real top quality amongst some dedicated players and promising youth prospects. There is a very good balance within the squad and I reckon the Bulls’ camp has a few of their Super League rivals worried don’t they, Mr Hetherington?nnThe Bulls will be in the mix this season, I’m extremely confident about that.

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