Hardest job in the world? Cummins certainly dealt a raw deal during Bradford Bulls reign (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Hardest job in the world? Cummins certainly dealt a raw deal during Bradford Bulls reign
WHEN Francis Cummins was unveiled as the new head coach of Bradford in September 2012, it marked the realisation of a long-held ambition.
Having spent the best part of two decades coaching junior teams, including his amateur club Dewsbury Celtic, and then assisting Tony Smith, Brian McClennan and Mick Potter, Cummins was certainly ready for the top job.
Resplendent in a smart grey suit, he looked and sounded the part at his first press conference as Bulls coach in the Coral Stand.
Cummins was handed a three-year contract and tasked with rebuilding the squad after a traumatic season which led to a mass exodus of players.
His recruitment was minimal on a tight budget but Matty Blythe, Ben Evans, Adam Sidlow and Jamie Foster proved shrewd signings and the Bulls began the 2013 season in style.
Cummins, who spent time in Australia visiting leading NRL clubs as part of an RFL coaching bursary in 2011, spoke passionately of his young men “investing in their careers”.
Having previously visited Sir Alex Ferguson, Cummins went to see Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and visited Leicester Tigers too.
He encouraged his staff and players to meet experts in and outside of rugby league.
He wanted them to be the best they possibly could be and make the most of their opportunities, with Cummins’ own playing career having been cut short by injury at the age of 29.
Heading into the round 12 visit of Wigan, Bradford were third in the table.
As the season progressed and injuries bit, however, they won only four more games and ended the campaign outside of the play-offs for the fifth successive year.
There was also a fall-out with Elliott Whitehead which saw the homegrown forward leave midway through the season.
Storm clouds gradually gathered above Odsal as wages started to be paid late.
Omar Khan left the club suddenly in September 2013 and, slowly but surely, things began to unravel off the field, culminating in an utterly shambolic and hugely damaging ownership saga.
Cummins was effectively caught in the middle of it all after being told by a trio of directors who never actually owned the club that he had to make drastic cuts to his backroom staff during pre-season.
After no resolution was found to resolve the Bulls’ ownership, debenture holder and future owner Marc Green put the club into administration on January 31.
Then Cummins’ squad began to fall apart, with Garreth Carvell, Jarrod Sammut and Scruton all jumping ship and the club’s points penalty being confirmed on February 25.
Cummins was forced to beg, steal and borrow players thereafter, with Jamal Fakir his only permanent signing.
Many supporters expected that a club on its knees would be bolstered by several more recruits to aid the fight against relegation.
But none have been forthcoming, only more loan signings, and the lack of depth in Cummins’ squad has been alarming at times.
Four teenagers in Oliver Roberts, Alex Mellor, Nathan Conroy and Sam Bates made up the bench at Wigan on Easter Monday, so it was no real surprise when the champions inflicted a record defeat on the Bulls.
A scathing statement issued by managing director Steve Ferres in the aftermath of that game probably sowed the seeds for Monday’s sacking of Cummins and Lee St Hilaire.
Green appeared to have pinned all his hopes on winning the six points back via the appeal and then hoping the Bulls could scrape enough wins to stay up.
At times this season it has felt as though the club has been sleepwalking towards oblivion.
Or rather the Championship.
There have been some serious pastings, and indeed some seriously below-par displays (Catalan away, Salford away).
But some weeks Cummins barely had seventeen fit senior players to pick from.
Other coaches might have vented their frustration but Cummins never did and always focused on the positives, even when he was struggling to find any.
He remained typically upbeat and often spoke about how one day he would look back and laugh at the troubles he has been forced to endure.
Cummins hoped the loyalty he had shown the club would repay him in the long run.
He worked for three months without pay after being made redundant in 2012, a financial hit from which the 37-year-old and his young family may never truly recover.
It is believed that Cummins turned down the opportunity to become reunited with Smith at Warrington in a first-team coaching capacity because he wanted to see the job through at Bradford.
Smith turned to Richard Agar instead, and Cummins ended up being sacked this week.
The timing of his dismissal seemed strange to say the least.
By Cummins’ own admission, Sunday’s display at Salford was “pathetic” but can anybody realistically come in to save the Bulls now?
With only 11 games remaining, it would take a miracle worker to conjure the numbers of wins needed to overhaul Wakefield.
John Kear is known as the ‘Miracle Man’ after he saved Wakefield from the drop in 2006 but the Bulls seem in no rush to appoint him.
Or anybody for that matter.
There is every chance Matt Diskin, who was fiercely opposed to Cummins’ sacking, will still be in temporary charge for next weekend’s trip to Warrington.
Although Cummins did not see eye to eye with Whitehead, he was popular, well liked and highly respected by his players.
He was a man of principle, of loyalty and of dignity.
There is no doubt he will back in the game soon enough because rugby league is in his blood.
His reputation remains intact and possibly even enhanced.
Cummins was a victim of circumstance at Bradford and in many ways paid for the failings of others off the field.
How might he have fared without having to deal with one crisis after another?
We will never know.
For now, rugby league, collectively, should wish Cummins and St Hilaire well.
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