JOHN Kear has seen it all in rugby league.

He turns 67 in a fortnight’s time, and has spent virtually his whole career in the top two tiers of the British game, starting with his first team debut at Castleford back in 1978.

He has experienced the highs of sensational underdog Challenge Cup triumphs with Sheffield (1998) and Hull (2005), as well as the devastating low of two Wakefield players dying during his time in charge there.

Popular prop Adam Watene passed away following a heart attack after an October 2008 gym session, before youngster Leon Walker died the following March, collapsing in a reserve team game with what was later diagnosed as a rare heart defect.

After the passing of the latter, a devastated Kear told The Guardian: “I’d never experienced anything like it before we lost Adam Watene, and I said to my wife then that I hoped I’d never have to handle anything like that again.

“Now six months later something equally as bad has happened, and it’s a kid who was 20 years of age.”

For Kear to galvanise his squad, and ensure they finished fifth in a 14-team Super League XIV at the end of that year, is testament to the kind of man he is.

One of my heroes as a Newcastle United fan was, and still is, Sir Bobby Robson.

Robson, understandably given his age, was hardly in the thick of training sessions, leaving that to his younger coaches like John Carver.

And with me having spent a bit of time with Kear and the team down at their Tong training base in the past, it seems to be a similar situation at Bulls.

Kear knows he can leave the training drills in the capable hands of the likes of Mark Dunning and his other trusted coaches, while he oversees the whole programme, like some kind of modern day Godfather.

But no, Kear’s greatest strengths, like Robson, surely lie in his man-management skills and the respect he commands from his players.

Craig Bellamy tells a story in his autobiography of how, after a blazing row with Carver ahead of an away UEFA Cup tie, he refused to get on the plane and fly out for the match.

Yet somehow, and even the temperamental, stubborn striker admits he doesn't know how, Robson persuaded him to change his mind.

While I’m sure Kear or his players may have similar tales to tell, I pick up from my interviews just how much the veteran means to them.

Last month for example, star half-back Jordan Lilley said: “John’s been around the game for a long time and he’s a rugby league geek.

“He loves the sport, you can see that when he’s on the BBC, and he’s always watching games.

“It’s good to have someone with that much knowledge coaching us. John is good to learn from and he can help us going forward.”

That is just one of the many testimonies given to me by Bradford players, who often bring Kear up without any prompting.

There has been talk about some tactical naivety from Kear this season, and those complaints are justified on occasion.

On several occasions during the campaign, teams walked through for tries far too easily, especially down the middle, an area Kear will know Bulls need to tighten up for 2022.

But unlike a lot of coaches in sport, who will blame everything from the referee to the wind for a bad result, Kear fronts up.

Even after the Championship play-off defeat to Batley in September, a game Bulls played reasonably well in, Kear admitted he should have has his men “rolling down the middle” more, with attempts to play expansive rugby at times costing them a potential semi-final berth.

As Lilley said, Kear is an unashamed rugby league “geek”, so he will spend hours working out where, tactically, he’s got it wrong, and how he can put that right.

People often say Kear has his favourites, but for a start, what manager or coach doesn’t have those players he feels he can trust every time they go out on to the field?

And those “favourites” are often internationals and ex-Super League players, hardly run of the mill forwards and backs.

People were bizarrely throwing blame Kear’s way when supremely talented young prop Ebon Scurr looked to be on his way out of Bulls until this week, forgetting that he was practically an ever-present in 2021 when he wasn’t injured.

Those questioning Kear’s faith in young players clearly haven’t seen the chances he’s afforded to the likes of Scurr, Tom Doyle and Joe Burton over the last couple of years.

And when he sees those lads ripping up Super League in five or 10 years time, hopefully with Bradford, he’ll be the one having the last laugh.

And if I know Kear, he’ll do that with his feet up, retired, with a brandy in one hand and a cigar in the other.