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Marc Green backed to spearhead Bradford Bulls revival
Of all the pain that Bulls supporters have suffered in recent times, the serial success of arch-rivals Leeds Rhinos has been particularly hard to stomach.
Since winning their first championship in 32 years in 2004, the men from Headingley have largely dominated Super League, winning six of the last ten Grand Finals.
Yet Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington can well remember the time when the club faced the bleak prospect of financial ruin.
At the end of the first season of summer rugby in 1996, Leeds were a failing club – at every level.
Debts had spiralled to over £5million.
They finished two places above relegated Workington Town.
Then salvation arrived in the shape of Hetherington, fresh from his success with Sheffield Eagles, and wealthy businessman Paul Caddick.
Hetherington recalled: “Leeds had lost over £500,000, accrued debts of £5.5million, the team narrowly avoided getting relegated and we suffered two crushing defeats against Bradford.
“Leeds Rhinos were extremely close to going out of business and there was nobody in the city who stepped forward to save them.
“It needed two Castleford lads in Paul Caddick and I to come in and get energised by the challenge.
“In 1998, Leeds reached the Grand Final and in 1999 we went to Wembley and won the Challenge Cup, so we turned things round pretty quickly.
“After that, we started developing and introducing younger players into the squad.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Leeds have since emerged as the leading club on and off the field and Hetherington believes new Bulls owner Marc Green can draw inspiration from the renaissance at Headingley.
Hetherington is an acquaintance of the Safeguard Security Group boss and said: “In 1996, Paul Caddick’s professional advisors were telling him not to get involved at Leeds.
“I’ve no doubt that Marc Green has had the same sort of advice but Paul and I look back now and it’s been a magical journey.
“In Marc, you’ve got someone with a real passion for the game and a business outlook for the club.
“When I’ve been in Marc’s company, I’ve been impressed by his quiet determination, passion and enthusiasm to accept what is a huge challenge.
“I think he’s done not only the city of Bradford a favour but also the whole of rugby league by taking on the Bulls and putting his heart and soul into it. There’s no doubt that Marc will be in it for the long haul.”
Hetherington feels the Bulls are now well placed to rebuild from the trauma of the past two years but feels they may have to do so in the Championship next season.
He said: “Bradford are certainly capable of being restored. What Marc Green has inherited are pretty similar circumstances to what Paul Caddick and I took over at Leeds.
“At the time Bradford were one of the top clubs, getting big crowds with a very successful team, whereas Leeds were in decline and narrowly avoided getting relegated in 1996.
“It’s a complete role reversal but I think what happened at Leeds can act as an inspiration to Bradford.
“Similar to Leeds, Bradford are a big club with a big latent support and a terrific history and heritage.
“There are some clubs in Super League who can never be as big as Bradford have been.
“That’s a real positive; the fact it’s one of the big brands and is very capable of being turned around.”
But Hetherington, who is a long-standing friend of new managing director Steve Ferres, believes the Bulls will struggle to avoid relegation largely because the players they need to strengthen their squad simply aren’t available.
He explained: “With seven games gone, Bradford are in a very precarious position, so this year is going to be a huge challenge to elevate themselves above teams other than London.
“They are restricted by the fact that there is a total scarcity of available quality players.
“It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got – you can’t just go out and make half a dozen top-quality signings.
“They will have to manage with pretty much what they’ve got and maybe make some additions to the squad – but that’s the reality of their situation.
“They need to give it their best shot for this year but they really need a short, medium and long-term view.
“The short-term is, of course, to try and turn the business around and at the same time develop a winning culture on the field – but it’s very difficult to do that in Super League.
“There is a very realistic chance that relegation will happen and, mid-term, it may well require them going into the Championship.
“But longer-term, their vision will certainly be to restore Bradford Bulls to one of the game’s top clubs both on and off the field.
“The new structure coming into play from 2015 is a very exciting one and, if the Bulls were to find themselves in the Championship, it does offer a route back into Super League.
“The strategy has got to be very much looking to the longer term. I think what Marc, Steve Ferres and Robbie Hunter-Paul represent is a common-sense approach to building a sustainable future.”
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