A Bradford Bulls fanatic and soldier serving in Afghanistan got to meet his heroes yesterday, but head coach Francis Cummins and his players were left similarly inspired.
Lance Corporal Jamie Sykes serves as a medic in the British Army and is in the middle of his fourth tour of duty.
The 25-year-old was presented with a shirt from joint-captain Matt Diskin at the Bulls’ training headquarters at Tong High School and will head back to Afghanistan on Monday after a two-week break.
His meeting with the Bulls squad arose after his aunt, Karen Fitzgerald, of Low Moor, Bradford, contacted Mr Cummins via e-mail.
The rookie Bulls boss, 36, has sought to find different ways of inspiring his troops following his appointment as head coach last September.
Mr Cummins said: “I introduced Jamie to the players and there was a round of applause and a sense of appreciation in the room for what he is doing.
“The lads hold people like Jamie in the highest regard because, however serious we think playing rugby league is, what Jamie is doing is far more important.
“It’s important that we recognise that and put things into context.
“It tied into what I’ve said to the players about them investing in their careers and giving everything they’ve got.
“Jamie is a Bulls fan, he’s another role model and his story brings everything into perspective.
“Footballers and rugby players, to a lesser extent, are held in such esteem when really it should be doctors, nurses, soldiers and teachers.
“Rugby league does matter to me because it’s my profession and so it has to.
“But I’m very aware of the bigger picture and what can be achieved when men and women are pulling in the same direction.”
Lance Cpl Sykes, of Brighouse, who was accompanied to yesterday’s meeting by his fiancée, Abbie Dalling, attended last weekend’s home win over Wakefield and will be at Hull FC to support the Bulls in action tonight.
He said: “I’m a massive Bulls fan and have followed them since the mid-1990s.
“It’s been fantastic to meet Franny and the players.”
Mr Cummins has asked Lance Clp Sykes to pay the club another visit when he returns from Afghanistan in April.
The Bulls boss said: “This was the first time we had met but I’d like Jamie to come back and speak to the players about his time on tour.”
Lance Cpl Sykes said: “That would be quite humbling and would be fantastic for me as such a big Bulls fan.”