THE Bulls were doomed this season by the double whammy before it started, says Lee Smith.

The former England international, who joined the club in February, feels Geoff Toovey's side have performed as well as can be expected with the impact of the Rugby Football League sanctions.

Relegation from the Championship was confirmed a month ago but a rally in the qualifiers means the Bulls have won more games than the three sides above them.

"It's been a massively tough year and I think the club have been pretty hard done by," said Smith.

"They got all the players taken off them and then lost the 12 points – so they got hit from both sides. Recruitment has been difficult as well.

"But if you took those 12 points back, we'd be safe, which is a massive effort from the lads.

"We're on eight points now so that would be 20, which isn't bad from a team with an average age of 22.

"There are some young kids in there playing busted but they keep giving their all for the shirt."

The Bulls, who have won ten of their 29 games, have picked up three more points than Sunday's final opponents Rochdale – and would also have finished above Swinton and Oldham without the penalty.

Yet Smith agrees with his coach that the club's blossoming youngsters have made huge strides in the tough scenario.

He said: "There is some quality in that team. There are some good young lads who I'm sure will go on and do really well.

"The likes of James Bentley, who has signed at Saints and is a fantastic young player. He'll go a long way.

"They've been thrown in the deep end because this league is tough for a young man. There are some big boys playing in that middle and they give you a good old clout.

"They learn the hard way but I'm sure it will put them in good stead, especially James going over to Saints. I'm sure he'll make a real impact at a top team."

Leon Pryce's mid-season departure has left Smith as the veteran in the team at 31. But having finally recovered from the knee injury which sidelined him for so long, he is enjoying the added responsibility.

Smith said: "It's not something I'm used to. It's always seemed like I've been the young one in the team, especially at Leeds where there were so many older heads.

"It has felt different. I've had to take more responsibility and they've had to follow me a little bit.

"I've had a really frustrating year with the knee injury that I just couldn't shake off.

"But anyone will know it is part of sport and I've been pretty lucky with injuries throughout my career. You've just got to get on with it.

"It's been hard watching the lads but now I'm back and contributing to some good results."