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Francis Cummins ‘class and grace’ can earn success at Bradford Bulls
You would think that Tony Smith could wax lyrical about his role in Francis Cummins’ long journey towards becoming a Super League head coach.
But, when asked to sum up his contribution towards Cummins’ rise and subsequent appointment as Bulls boss, Smith looks surprised.
“Franny actually helped my development and had an enormous impact on me,” said the Warrington coach.
“Firstly as a player when I coached him at Leeds and then when he worked on my coaching staff at Headingley.
“I have the utmost respect for Franny because he had a difficult transition to make from being a player to a coach at the same club.
“He handled it with class, grace and with a lot of respect from his former team-mates.
“It’s difficult to make that leap from poacher to gamekeeper, if you like, but Franny did it brilliantly.
“It was obvious that he had coaching potential even when he was a player.”
When Smith speaks, it makes sense to listen.
He delivered Leeds’ first championship in 32 years in 2004, laying the platform for a golden era in the club’s history.
He has since guided Warrington to three Challenge Cup wins in the past four seasons, underlining his status as the finest overseas coach Super League has seen.
After injury cut short his career aged just 29, Smith invited Cummins to join his coaching staff after the former winger was forced to retire at the end of 2005 after 12 seasons as a Leeds player.
Cummins served under Smith and latterly Brian McClennan during a five-year stint on the coaching staff, before becoming Mick Potter’s right-hand man at Bradford ahead of the 2011 season.
The younger brother of former Bulls coach Brian Smith realised Cummins’ coaching potential after he had dropped him at the start of the 2004 season.
The Australian recalled: “It was the opening round of the season and Franny had played 179 consecutive games for Leeds – a club record.
“I broke that sequence as Leeds coach when I didn’t pick him against London Broncos.
“Mark Calderwood and Marcus Bai were my wingers that day but a better person I have not come across.
“Franny handled that whole situation superbly. As a former captain of the club and an international player, he set an example to the other players.
“In fact, he probably set an example to the rest of society with the way he handled that bit of adversity.
“In the long run it probably got him a job as a coach because from the moment I dropped him that day, I knew he was a class act.”
After serving as assistant at Bradford for the past two seasons, Potter had no doubts as to Cummins’ ability to take the reins.
Nor had Smith, who feels the 36-year-old will prosper as Bulls coach despite being forced to operate with a small squad.
Cummins will be back on familiar ground on Sunday when he takes the Bulls to Leeds for Danny McGuire’s testimonial.
Smith said: “You have to work your way up there and do the hard yards.
“My first job was with the lowly Huddersfield Giants, who had struggled badly for the previous two or three years.
“In no way am I comparing Bradford Bulls to how bad we were at Huddersfield because Franny has a class side in comparison!
“But I’m just saying that not every coach can start at the top.
“Sometimes there needs to be a rags to riches story. There are too many of the riches to rags stories in the coaching ranks.
“Doing it tough for a while in the early part of your career is a good way of learning your trade.
“Unfortunately in the coaching ranks, some people aren’t given enough time to develop long enough to prove themselves.
“It’s a fine line, and I understand that, but I think Franny will do a terrific job.
“We still speak regularly and I know he’s got the respect of people in the game and of his players. As a coach, that’s what you need.”