Last September Francis Cummins was rewarded with the Bulls head coach job after serving as Mick Potter’s assistant for two years.
But his tumultuous journey to the top has been the culmination of hard work and dedication over two decades.
Cummins was 16 and a young hopeful at Leeds when he began coaching.
He has never really looked back since.
Cummins, at 36 the second youngest coach in Super League, said: “Even before I became an apprentice at Leeds, I went on work experience there and did a couple of coaching sessions with the apprentices, led by Paul Daley, then the Hunslet coach.
“He had them all in the palm of his hand and that was probably the most inspiring thing for me.
When I was playing I remember thinking in Daryl Powell’s time ‘I don’t know whether I want to be a head coach’ because of the stick he got
“Not long after I became an apprentice, the Leeds team coached in schools on a weekly basis and I was involved in that too.
“So I was always doing it. About three or four years later I really put my time back into Dewsbury Celtic, my amateur club.
“They have always been known as a flagship open-age team but they never had any juniors.
“I went back and tried to get an under-sevens team going. They’ve now got 12 junior teams and two open-age groups.”
Cummins went on to enjoy a fine playing career as Leeds – under the astute guidance of Tony Smith – won their first championship in 32 years in 2004.
That laid the foundations for a period of sustained success at Headingley but Cummins was already looking to the next stage of his career.
The former winger reflected: “When I was playing I remember thinking in Daryl Powell’s time ‘I don’t know whether I want to be a head coach’ because of the stick he got.
“It was poor how fickle the fans were but wherever you are in life, you always think ‘maybe I can take the next step up’.
“The culture at Leeds had changed and I was probably looking over the fence anyway at how it worked.”
When a knee injury forced him to retire at the end of 2005 aged just 29, Cummins became part of Smith’s backroom team, serving under the Australian and then Brian McClennan.
Having spent five years on the Headingley staff, he felt the time for change had come.
Cummins joined Bradford as Potter’s No 2 ahead of the 2011 campaign, and in January of that year spent two weeks in Australia visiting leading NRL clubs as part of an RFL coaching bursary.
After being made redundant last year and working without pay for three months, Cummins took the reins at Bradford on the recommendation of Potter.
“I haven’t forgotten what that felt like to be out of work last year,” said Cummins.
“That’s the joke when people say ‘how are you handling the pressure of coaching the Bulls?’ “Well, I like to throw back at them that being without a job and having three kids and a wife is real pressure.
“This bit isn’t pressure, or at least it’s a different type of pressure.
“But rugby league is what I’ve done since I was 16 years old.
“I’ve been on a journey for the last 20 years and to get the Bulls job you think ‘yes, I’ve got an opportunity now’.
“It wasn’t just all those years at Leeds, it was the hours of volunteering at Bradford as well.
“It’s also a payback for my wife Katy and my kids Gabby, Mitchell and Jackson who supported me last year and will, ultimately, miss out on a little bit of my time because of my commitments here.”
Despite a raft of departures and working under financial constraints, Cummins was handed a three-year deal, suggesting he will be given time to turn the club around.
Recruitment has been minimal during the winter but the new arrivals look shrewd and the spine of the team remains largely intact.
Cummins added: “Last year showed that regardless of what was happening off the field, the players were able to perform under mental pressure when they weren’t even prepared at times.
“There are going to be some tough times ahead but if we can keep that togetherness from last year and build on it, then we can start moving forward again.”
Bradford Bulls season preview: The rise and rise of rookie coach Francis Cummins
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