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What a year for rookie Bradford Bulls coach Francis Cummins
Francis Cummins could be forgiven for thinking that life as head coach of Bradford Bulls will only get easier after the past 12 months.
Appointed just over a year ago, Cummins has worked with a shoestring budget and with one of the smallest squads in Super League.
After a huge raft of departures at the end of the traumatic 2012 campaign, Cummins brought in only two permanent new signings and another two players on loan.
The club were forced to make do with only half of the central monies due from the Rugby Football League and will do so again next year.
One of Cummins’ first tasks was finding a replacement for Craig Kopczak following his controversial exit.
Then there was the Elliott Whitehead saga midway through the season, before another financial scare when wages were not paid on time at the end of July.
“We were playing catch-up right from the beginning,” reflected Cummins.
“We were ready for a November start but we didn’t have anything in place.
“We had to get people back in posts and I had to put in some long hours.
“We had the Koppy (Craig Kopczak) situation, then Elliott and the late payments.
“You think you’ve just got to coach the team – but I’ve actually loved the challenges the job has thrown up.”
After a gruelling pre-season, the Bulls began the campaign in highly impressive fashion, sweeping aside teams such as Wakefield and Castleford before destroying eventual table-toppers Huddersfield on their own turf.
Heading into the home clash with Wigan in mid-April, Cummins’ young side – average age 24 – lay third in the table.
But that match kick-started a run of nine defeats out of ten Super League games and also a Challenge Cup exit at London Broncos.
The Bulls never really recovered.
They would go on to win only four more times in Super League to miss out on the play-offs for the fifth successive year.
So did Cummins feel the pressure during that miserable sequence of results?
“No, I didn’t,” insisted the 36-year-old.
“Obviously I wanted us to get back on the horse and get a win but I don’t live my life through the media anyway.
“It was more about the club and what we were doing here at Tong.
“One thing I know, and this was before I got the job, was that you’ve got to stick by what you believe in because eventually you will get going again.
“We’ve let ourselves down the odd time, and need to develop better game management, but we’ve never stopped working hard for each other.
“Having a small squad affected us in the end and there were times when we couldn’t do full-contact training because you’re frightened of picking up more injuries.
“But most of the players have improved throughout the year and that’s pleasing.”
The demands of being a head coach have been felt in the Cummins household.
The Bulls chief, a father of three young children, explained: “The job doesn’t really stop because you go home and you’re still at it.
“You mess about with the kids but then they go to bed and you get back on the laptop doing something else.
“I’m lucky really in that I’ve been with my wife Katy since I was 20 years old and have always been involved in rugby league.
“There are times at weekends when my son gets frustrated because I can’t watch him play rugby and football.
“But that’s the job and if you want to be successful then you’ve got to put the hours in.”
Cummins’ backroom staff will be increased significantly during the off-season and the addition of Robbie Hunter-Paul and Roy Davison to the club’s administration department earlier this year should help things to run more smoothly.
“We’ve struggled because there haven’t been people in positions and things have taken longer than I would have hoped,” said Cummins.
“Things happen slowly but I understand where the club is and there is only a certain amount of work that people can do.
“Bringing Robbie and Roy and a few others in, hopefully that will become easier.”
The players have now dispersed for their end-of-season break but Cummins remains busy in his office at Tong as he closes in on more signings ahead of the start of pre-season in late October.
He said: “There will be more signings announced soon and the recruitment we’ve done already is very good.
“We’ve got a couple of new physios, a new conditioner and another coach, so that will help us in all departments.
“We will be able to deliver better than what we did last year so the professionalism, and the service we can deliver to the players, will be the best yet.”
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