Chris Bridge will return to Bradford tomorrow in the form of his life after coming through some “dark times” earlier in his Warrington career.
Bridge was nurtured by Wolves coach Tony Smith in the academy at Huddersfield over a decade ago before leaving to join the Bulls, where he made his Super League name.
The 29-year-old centre progressed through the ranks with the likes of Ryan Atkins and Brett Ferres but was sold to Warrington in 2005.
It did not happen for Bridge right away – nor did it happen for his new club.
That changed when Warrington’s multi-millionaire owner Simon Moran appointed former Leeds boss Smith in 2009.
Bridge said: “When Simon came to the club, things started to happen gradually and when Tony came he changed the culture completely.
“Simon has been really good to me, especially when I was younger, and stood by me through some dark times.
“I was immature, took things for granted and didn’t realise how lucky I was but having a daughter made me become more focused. When Tony came to Warrington, he had words with me straight away.
“He had me as a kid at Huddersfield, so he knew what I was like. When he first arrived, he put me in the under-20s for the first seven weeks.”
Warrington were known as the great under-achievers back then and an infamous drinking culture prevailed.
Oldham-born Bridge admitted: “Everything was a bit slack and when Tony came he told us things had to change – and he’s done that from top to bottom.
“We talked about how other people perceived us and there was a drinking culture whether we won or lost.
“We had to turn that around and we’ve become a really professional team. The difference now to how it was then is unbelievable.”
Few players have benefited more from Smith’s guidance than Bridge, who this week earned a recall to the England squad.
After the way he demolished Leeds from half-back last Friday, it was almost impossible to ignore him.
Smith said: “When I first came to England, Chris was probably the most talented young player I’d seen.
“He was on our books at Huddersfield but we lost him and he went to Bradford.
“He’s had his ups and downs and had a chequered career since then but I think everybody realised the talent he had.
“It was just whether he could produce that on a consistent basis. I think he’s given himself every chance to do that at the moment.
“Two or three years ago, he had a really good couple of seasons and was seen as one of the best centres in the country at that stage.
“Injuries probably hampered that but he’s now taking care of his body in a much more professional way.
“He’s often the first to training and has often done swimming before training starts, so that allows his body to perform consistently well and he’s reaping the benefits.
“He’s not getting injured as much and he’s preventing a lot of those.”
Smith believes Bridge’s success can in part be attributed to his increased maturity and settled family life.
He said: “I think fatherhood has played a part in this. Players get to the stage where they have to provide for their families and they start to knuckle down.
“Chris has done that and is a level-headed young man. At different stages you would have probably called him a hothead or somebody who hasn’t been the most professional.
“But you can’t accuse him of either of those things now because he’s a pleasure to work with now and to be around.
“I’m delighted he has the England recognition now and if there is a better half-back than Chris running around right now, then I haven’t seen him.
“He’s in the best form of his career and hopefully he can maintain that. I think he’s found the secret of doing that and we’re all reaping the benefits.”
Bridge admits he still has a “soft spot” for Bradford but is desperate to add to the Challenge Cup winners’ medal he claimed in 2009.
He said: “I missed the 2010 and 2012 finals through injury and not getting picked.
“Bradford embarrassed us the last time we played them, so we know we need to be on our game this weekend.
“I always enjoy coming back to Bradford and a lot of the players there were heroes of mine; the likes of Robbie Hunter-Paul and Jamie Peacock.”