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Bradford Bulls: Bryn Hargreaves looks at bigger picture
Just over three weeks ago, Mick Potter presented the coveted Prize Bull trophy to Bryn Hargreaves at the end-of-season awards night.
The honour is awarded by the coach to the player he feels has performed to a consistently high standard throughout the season.
Raw emotion dripped from a visibly humbled Hargreaves as he accepted the prize and gave the briefest of acceptance speeches.
Here was a player in the prime of his life, having his ability and his efforts formally recognised by his coach, but about to walk away from rugby league.
“I don’t think I’ve fulfilled my potential,” reflected the former Wigan and St Helens prop following his decision to retire aged just 26.
“This season I started to come into my own and probably played the best year of my life. Mick said it: I’m getting better and better – and I honestly feel I am.
“I’m feeling more comfortable on the field and feeling fitter and stronger. That’s what made it so difficult (to quit) because I feel I’ve still got a lot to offer.
“Unfortunately, rugby league can’t be the be-all and end-all because it’s only a job and you’ve got to think about the bigger picture.”
As was dramatically revealed in the Telegraph & Argus last month, Hargreaves has hung up his boots and is pursuing a career overseas.
It does not faze him.
He explained: “It would have been an easier decision to stay in rugby and just think ‘I’ll worry about this later’.
“But that’s not how life works. You’ve got to make these tough decisions and do what’s best for the long-term.
“You get into your thirties and you may be lucky to still be playing at that age after injuries – and basically you’ve got nothing to fall back on.
“You’ve worked roughly a quarter of your working life by the time you finish, so what are you going to do then?
“It’s unlikely that you’ll have much work experience and I don’t have a family to support at the minute through all this, thank God.
“But most players come to retire and have families to support with nothing there for them. I wouldn’t like to be in that position.”
Despite a bitterly disappointing first year at Odsal, Hargreaves and the Bulls made a dramatic improvement during 2012.
He said: “My first season here was a really tough year. It was horrible going from a side that wins a lot to one that does not.
“I’m someone who takes winning and losing as the be-all and end-all. That dictates my mood throughout the week completely. Losing the way we did that year really affected me.
“In 2011 we let the fans down but for the most part they stuck by us. I’ve come from teams where the fans always expected success.
“Bradford have had success in the past but the fans at Wigan soon turned on the players and the club.
“They were quick to boo – and even St Helens, even though they won the majority of games and finished well in the table, if you put in a bad performance then a lot of fans were quick to stick the knife in.
“But it’s not been like that at Bradford. I’ve never seen anything like what has happened. Even in 2011 I was like ‘wow, the fans are really good’.
“But this year they have been phenomenal. They deserve success and for the club to be in Super League. What they have shown this year is that they are the most loyal fans in Super League.
“To turn up at an away game and be sitting in the changing room listening to your own fans singing is something to be proud of. Obviously we put in some good performances this year and started to turn things around.”
Hargreaves admits to being his own biggest critic but he thought that, after everything that has gone on at the club, he deserved the end-of-season accolade from his coach.
“It makes me proud and is something that I can always remember and look back on with fond memories,” he said.
“Bradford are the most brilliant, welcoming family club. Everyone treats you with respect and that goes a long way as a player. Now I’m ready to move on.”
Rugby league should wish him well.