JORDAN Lilley wore the shiner above his left eye like a badge of honour.

“I think I had a bounty on my head,” he laughed. “Everyone just seemed to want to whack me off the ball and gouge me.

“But that’s part of rugby league and I’ll take it week in, week out. My mum and dad brought me up to be tough.”

It’s going to take more than the odd bang from a pre-season friendly at Odsal to put off the Leeds loanee. Lilley has a clear focus on where the Bulls are heading this year.

And it’s a far cry from his last taste of the Championship with the club in 2017.

Lilley played 12 times under Geoff Toovey’s brief charge but won only four in a team relegated well before the end after the hefty points penalty for being in administration.

He recalled: “Everything was looking down on us and the clouds were over Odsal.

“Obviously I’d been at Leeds and then I came here and we were on minus 12 (points).

“It wasn’t the best place to be around. People came into training and didn’t really want to do it – it wasn’t a good environment.

“But now we can’t wait to come in. We’re full time and part time but we’re in five days a week.

“We’ve got a really good cohesive group this year.

“We go out and do things together. We do team events together, have a coffee club, play cards – all those things that can bond you.

“You see that on the field with how we’re playing and how the combinations are starting to come.”

The change in atmosphere for this season’s return to the second tier was summed up when Jake Webster arranged an impromptu training session to practise with the team’s left side.

“It’s always hard to get back on the training field after the Christmas break,” admitted Lilley. “But this group are always willing and we were on the field off our own back.

“Jake organised it and we just ran some combinations. But you learn so much from someone like him.

“He has shown his leadership and is helping everyone. As a half, it makes my job easier if my centre and back row are on the same page. It’s still rusty. There are areas we need to look at and fix.

“Last week was the first time in six months that I’ve played halfback.

“I’m still getting to grips to playing with people like Matty Storton and Jake. But we’ll keep working on it in training and start firing.

“If I flick to a short side, I like to think we know what we’re doing. In 2017, I don’t think we had that.”

Last week’s win over Halifax was an early signal of how competitive the upcoming campaign is going to be.

But Lilley is convinced the Bulls have a squad capable of mounting a genuine challenge – and does not mind where he has to fit in. His utility value for John Kear will be a bonus with the reduced interchange.

“I’ll play anywhere,” he said. “Put me in at prop and I’ll still do a job.

“I like tackling and defending. I’m only little so I get spotted.

“But I’ll do my bit for the team wherever I have to play, whether it’s hooker, half – I’ll do my job and give everything.”

He added: “The side looks really fit. Adam (Simpson), the conditioner, has done an outstanding job with us this year.

“He’s got us in good shape and it’s showing out there. Some people are playing big minutes.

“Mikey Wood played nearly 70 against York in the middles, which is an outstanding effort. Matty Wildie did the same at hooker last week.

“The eight interchanges will be really good for us. We’ll be able to catch teams with our quick edges and get a roll on.”

Kear is using the hectic pre-season programme to try out different combinations and partnerships. Everyone who is fit will see game-time in this weekend’s double-header.

Lilley added: “The scary thing is when you look at the people still on the sidelines.

“You’ve got your captain Steve Crossley, Ross Peltier is injured at the minute – there’s plenty of fire to still come back into this team.

“Imagine when we get everyone back. It’s exciting to think what I could be playing off.

“That’s what it’s about. It’s hard for a half-back to shine and do his thing if he’s playing off slow rucks all the time.

“We’ve got a really strong squad and I believe it’s a squad that can compete for the top four this year.”