HE’S the West Bowling boy whose boyhood club is Dudley Hill.

But John Bateman’s story goes far beyond those two traditional Bradford rivals.

The England international is back home from Australia after a couple of seasons playing for Canberra in the NRL, rejoining Wigan after their Super League heartbreak last year.

Bateman also gave his thoughts on his first professional club, Bulls, saying he doesn’t think they were quite ready for that jump up to Super League for 2021.

The 27-year-old is close to his family, and dotes on his 11-year-old daughter Millie, so the joy of having her around on a regular basis is an added bonus to his move back to England.

Talking to the T&A, Bateman said: “When it first came about that I was leaving Canberra, Wigan wanted me in the picture, so it wasn’t necessarily just about me wanting to come home.

“But there was the toll of my family not being able to come over and see me in Australia throughout the year. I went 11 months without seeing Millie and only getting sent pictures of her.

“I was seeing her grow up but only getting to talk to her over FaceTime and not give her a hug and a kiss.

“It sinks in a little bit more, and with the year like it was last year, I think everyone realised that the most important things are things that are close to them.

“For me that’s my family, my little girl, my mum, my brother, and my niece and nephew. That was a big deal for me.

“As well, once negotiations got underway with Wigan, I’ve had some great memories there previously and watched them from afar while I’ve been away, but it was also how (executive director) Kris Radlinski put it across to me, put his neck out and really wanted to get me to the club.

“That was a big turning point for me.”

Wigan lost a thrilling Grand Final to St Helens in November, going down 8-4 to a last-gasp try from Jack Welsby.

The two big rivals look likely to be the ones battling it out for Super League’s big prize this year too, and asked if that heartbreaking defeat was motivation for the Warriors players, Bateman said: “Any time you don’t win you’re motivated.

“Every other team will want to get to that position Wigan and Saints were in last year, trying to win the Grand Final. I don’t know a team that would start pre-season not having that goal.

“Everyone will look at the bigger picture of that’s what you want to win, but it’s little by little.

“We’re looking forward to the fixtures getting released and we’ll take it game by game. We need to win every game we take part in, and that will be our main focus.”

A lot has been made of Bateman being handed the number 13 shirt, and asked why that means so much, Bateman explained: “When I was at Wigan before, I got the chance to play with Lockers (Sean O’Loughlin), so no-one else has had that shirt for something like 17 years.

“You look at the other great players before him too that have worn it, like Andy Farrell and Ellery Hanley. You just think of the people who have had that shirt and it’s massive.

“At the same time, there’s a big responsibility on your shoulders. You need to go out and produce because of the players who have worn it before.

“But I’m excited. It’s a privilege to be given the shirt, to be able to represent that number week in, week out.

“I haven’t been in training yet but once I get my training kit, with that number on, it will be crazy for me and it will probably sink in.

“I’ve obviously already seen shirts with my name and number on the back and I got my little girl, niece and nephew shirts for Christmas.

“And just to to see ‘Dad 13’ on Millie’s back is pretty mad.”

But Millie and all the other fans with replica shirts are seemingly unlikely to be in the stadium when the season starts, and addressing that, Bateman said: “Even when there were games in front of 1,000 fans in Australia, it was weird, as you could hear yourself abusing your teammates and you’d get caught out doing that.

“But I was a fan myself as a kid too, and I used to love being able to go along and watch matches.

“The game is full of fans, who come week in, week out to cheer or boo you.

“That’s one thing I’m going to miss, coming back here and the grounds being empty. I’m not saying the fans don’t get into the game over in Australia, but it’s a different atmosphere in England.

“They really get into it and sing songs and you don’t have any of that in Australia.

“Hopefully we can move forward soon and start bringing fans into the stadium, because that’s massive.

“The players love it. I don’t think you’d ask anyone who’d say they’d rather play in an empty stadium. The fans are what it’s all about.”

Despite being stuck in the Championship, Bulls have one of the biggest fanbases in rugby league.

And though that was seriously considered in their Super League application, Leigh got the nod to play in the top flight instead.

Bateman, who made his debut for the club as a 17-year-old on Boxing Day in 2010, feels it was the right decision to hold Bradford back for now, saying: “The squad is coming together nicely but I still feel that they need a couple more players.

“When their name was being chucked around for coming into Super League, for all I’m a Bradford lad and I want them to be there, you don’t want to put them in and have them getting beat week in, week out.

“You want them to be ready and put up a fight and be challenging. For me that’s what I’m used to.

“As a kid, I was used to seeing Bradford winning games and pushing in the big ones, like Grand Finals.

“That’s where you want to see Bradford, back to the good old days.

“They’re building a squad now where they’re putting a few decent, experienced players in there, mixed in with the young lads.

“Bradford’s been well known to have a good academy system, so hopefully they can produce a few more young kids and put them in that squad with some experienced heads.

“Hopefully, over the next couple of years, with a good coach in John Kear behind them, they can push on and get back up.

“I’d love to play against them at Odsal, if they get back there, in a couple of years’ time.”

Bateman has been thousands of miles away from Odsal over the last two seasons, plying his trade in the Australian capital.

Speaking about his stint in the NRL, widely considered the pinnacle of rugby league, Bateman said: “It was a really good experience.

“I was looking forward to the test and challenge and it lived up to expectations. The games kept coming thick and fast and they were all tough, just like Super League.

“I enjoyed it, had some good times and made some really good mates out there too.”

Canberra reached the Grand Final in Bateman’s first season, losing 14-8 to Sydney.

But things didn’t go quite as well for the Bradfordian or his team in 2020.

They lost 30-10 to Melbourne in the preliminary final and Bateman missed a lot of action earlier on in the season with a shoulder injury, which required two rounds of surgery.

Asked whether he was disappointed that his second season didn’t reach the heights, on a personal or team level, of 2019, Bateman said: “Any year you don’t win anything is a disappointment.

“The first year was still disappointing to be fair. It’s all right getting to the final but no-one remembers second best.

“Obviously you have good times along the way, but it’s all about winning stuff, and we didn’t do that in the two years I was there, so that’s pretty disappointing.

“Last year I had my shoulder injury too as you’ve said, and then there was not knowing what was going on with Covid and having a stop-start season.

“It was a bit all over the place and I’d be surprised to see many people saying 2020 was a good year for them to be fair.

“But you take your good and bad out of everything. You have to look at anything like that.

“So I don’t just look at how the first or the second season went, I look at my time there as a whole.”

Bateman clearly sets himself some very high standards, given Canberra haven’t won anything since 1994, and the Sydney defeat in 2019 was their only Grand Final appearance since then.

But he has experienced glory in the showpiece with Wigan, helping the Warriors to victory at Old Trafford in 2016 and 2018 against Warrington.

That will surely be his aim again this season given, as Bateman says, “no-one remembers second best”.