ASHLEY Gibson returns to Bulls training today with coach John Kear calling him the best defensive centre in the division.

Gibson will wear a protective cover on the thumb he broke against Hunslet in June.

And Kear intends to put him through his full paces to see if the hand will hold up to scrutiny ahead of Sunday’s derby clash with Keighley at Odsal.

“He’s had the pins removed and had a protective pad made to protect the thumb and the joint,” said the Bulls coach.

“There’s a slight restriction in movement but it’s manageable.

“He will be doing full contact tonight and that will dictate whether or not he is available. It’s great news for us to have him back out there.

“I know Ash is not the flashiest player and he’s not one that people will see making 70-yard breaks.

“But there aren’t any 70-yard breaks made down his end either. That’s what appeals to me.

“I think he’s the best defensive centre in League One.”

Winger Jy Hitchcox will also be in training after returning to the club for his second loan spell from Castleford. He has recovered from the back injury that threatened to cut his season short.

Kear added: “Jy will be training with us but obviously we’re fully aware that you are only allowed to play a certain number of loan players in your 17-man squad.

“That will be taken into account when team selection is made.

“He’s trained fully at Castleford over this two-week break and reported no ill effects. We’ll assess it ourselves but we can only have five loan players in the 17.”

Kear believes the free weekend has freshened up his troops ahead of the final four-game push for promotion.

Coming on the back of the home loss to Workington, which cost the Bulls top spot, he noticed a renewed enthusiasm at Tong earlier in the week.

“The training session on Tuesday was the best we’ve had in the last two months.

“I think it was purely down to the fact they had some days away from each other.

“It’s like anything else. If you go to work every day, you get a bit stale with the people around you.

“If you’ve had a break and then go back, it’s like re-uniting with your best mates. It seemed like that on Tuesday because the training session was excellent.

“As a coaching staff, it’s also done us the world of good. We’ve sat down and decided exactly on the tactical emphasis for the last four weeks.

“That clarity can then be passed on to the players and they’ve agreed what we’ve identified is the correct way to go. We’ll find out if they’ve bought into it against Keighley but I’m pretty certain that they have.”