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One headache Francis Cummins won't mind at Bradford Bulls
As Francis Cummins held court with a huddle of reporters in the Coral Stand after Sunday’s win over Oldham, he was able to talk about something he has probably not experienced since last year.
“We’re getting players back now and I’m going to have a few selection headaches for the Salford game,” said the Bulls head coach.
Cummins has grown accustomed to scraping a side together in recent weeks but things are looking up both on and off field right now.
For a start, he should four recognised props available tomorrow in Jamal Fakir, Anthony Mullally, Manase Manuokafoa and Adam Sidlow, with the latter hoping to return against his former club.
Lee Gaskell is also back into contention to resume his favoured stand-off berth and Jamie Foster will reclaim his spot on the left wing.
But the area where Cummins is most spoilt for choice is in the back row.
After the start to the season James Donaldson has enjoyed, he has made himself all but indispensable at loose forward.
But competition for the two starting second-row spots is hotting up.
Take Dale Ferguson. The Scotland international had a fine game against Oldham on his senior debut and illustrated why Cummins signed him from Huddersfield.
Matty Blythe, ostensibly a centre who is equally at home in the second row, also impressed.
In essence, they have the jerseys going into tomorrow’s pivotal home clash against Salford.
Danny Addy, who played in the halves last week but is essentially a back-rower, and Chev Walker (who has been utilised in the front row in recent weeks) are also vying for contention, while Tom Olbison and Danny Bridge have not even made the 19-man squad.
Such squad depth and competition for places is to be welcomed with open arms by Cummins.
Ferguson, who broke the line on several occasions and scored a try against Oldham, said: “I’d been looking forward to getting back out there and I think I played about 50 minutes before Franny pulled me off.
“I felt pretty good and that’s why I went back on towards the end of the second half.
“I enjoyed it and must pay tribute to the conditioner, Tom Clough, and the physios for all their support, so hopefully I can help the boys kick on again against Salford.
“I don’t know whether I’ve got the shirt because we’ve got a lot of class players – Tom Olbison has been suspended and Matty Blythe went really well in the back row against Oldham.
“Hopefully I’ll get the nod this week and I think it could be a big turning point in our season.
“If we get the two points then we’re back on a level playing field and can just chase the other teams down for the rest of the season.”
Olbison has pretty much established himself as one of Cummins’ starting second-rowers but he admits the competition is increasing following the return of Ferguson and Blythe.
Olbison was a frustrated spectator as the Bulls destroyed Scott Naylor’s Championship One outfit.
He was forced to serve a one-match ban after being found guilty of placing undue pressure on the neck of Danny Tickle during the recent defeat at Widnes and misses out again this weekend.
He pleaded not guilty to a Grade C charge of dangerous conduct and was fined £300 after the tribunal downgraded the offence to Grade B.
“There are a lot of lads playing well and you saw that last week against Oldham, so you can't expect to walk straight back in,” said Olbison.
“I think I’ve started the season well but it’s down to how you perform week in, week out as to whether you get a place or not.
“We’ve got lads coming back and the competition for places is increasing. Obviously my ban hasn’t helped my position in the team but I’d like to think I’ll be involved in the coming weeks.”
Cummins was left bitterly disappointed at Olbison’s punishment as he felt it was unjust and also wrecked his players’ unblemished disciplinary record.
Olbison said: “It was more technical than meaning to hurt the opposition player but it’s just one of those things.
“I’ve got to pay the £300 before I play again but I certainly hope to help get us back on zero points, then kick on from there.”
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