WITH the Bulls returning to pre-season this week, chairman NIGEL WOOD has updated fans with his latest question-and-answer session.

You are entering your eighth month as chairman, how has that time gone so far?

We said before the start of the season that our highest priority was to get the club back to Bradford, if at all we could. I think everyone thought playing out of the city was the road to oblivion for the club, so it was that important.

It wasn’t straightforward but we got there eventually. A number of generous partners came forward to assist the process and the club owes a huge debt to the very many volunteers who helped make it happen, many of whom, magnificently still assist every single week. Thank you and well done doesn’t do justice to the efforts of these people.

What were the complications? Presumably the pitch dimensions were just one?

Well that was certainly a very visible one, but there were many snags, as anyone who has done any kind of maintenance on a building project can imagine.

But between ourselves, the RFL and StarTrax, plus many others we got there in time for the York fixture when supporters could actually attend.

The club took some unjustified flak about the pitch, but as we said at the time, it was always a matter for the RFL to resolve. Our view was always that we would rather play at Odsal even on a temporarily compromised pitch.

What does the future hold for the Bulls at Odsal and what is the situation with the 18-month lease the club agreed in May?

The club agreed a short-term lease with the RFL but obviously we are hoping and it is intended that this will become a permanent arrangement.

At the time there was considerable uncertainty about the sport and also about the occupancy costs at Odsal so we couldn’t commit to more than 18 months.

We are still uncertain about the league structure and financial distributions hence our caution but we are a little more optimistic. The important challenge though remains.

How do we create a 21st century facility befitting modern-day sports watching? Our supporters deserve nothing less and we remain focused on that large prize.

What progress is being made to develop Odsal into the facility you previously describe?

We are encouraged by discussions with the local authority. We must recognise that every stadium development that has happened in rugby league in the past 20 years has had significant public purse or a civic enabling aspect to it.

This scale of the required ambition simply cannot be done without the city authorities wanting it to happen. I am convinced that the council and local politicians do want to make something happen for the city and we are in an emerging dialogue with the relevant officers.

The club volunteers and its partners have brought Odsal back from the dead and I hope that this is creditable enough to persuade the decision-makers that the city needs a 21st facility in its southern approach on the M606.

We have heard many redevelopment plans over the years and they have never come to fruition, how realistic is this?

There is plenty going on around the site and if the ‘park and ride’ scheme gets up, it will transform the dynamics of the area. There is also the opportunity that the closure of the Richard Dunn Sports Centre presents, so there are a number of moving parts.

I am sure we would all seek an integrated sporting, leisure and commercial solution in the city’s southern gateway, built around a multi-sports facility for Bradford residents to enjoy and support.

Taking a closer look at how things are going on the field, what is your assessment of the 2021 season?

Well I suspect that many people’s candid assessment on the school report would probably be “ok but could do better”.

Maybe sentiment is skewed a little from a very disappointing last few fixtures and the whole club felt a little flat about how our season ended.

We certainly had some good, strong performances and wins, but also some less than satisfactory outcomes and we all know which matches fall into each category.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

But it was a marginal improvement on the sixth place of the year before, so our objective of year-on-year improvement was achieved as such.

But we win together, and we lose together so we will all have to roll up our sleeves to be genuine contenders in 2022.

Without appearing to make excuses I do also accept that the last off-season, when most of the fundamental building blocks are put in place for the year’s endeavours, was ruined by Covid complications.

Will the club be genuine contenders in 2022, with Toulouse Olympique now in Super League?

Be under no illusions the Championship is a tough old league, with numerous strong clubs. Leigh returning instead of Toulouse hardly weakens it does it?

Featherstone, Halifax and York are recruiting strongly and so will Widnes and London. Cumbria is never an easy place to go to and win and there will be three visits there next season.

We have tried hard to strengthen the first-team budget this year, despite significant reductions in income lines and I know the coaching team are pleased with the recruitment to date.

Nothing is won in November so it will be down to our collective efforts, but I am confident we can challenge strongly in 2022.

Can the Bradford supporters expect to see more new faces come through the door in the coming weeks and months?

We are nearly full up but yes there will be further additions when the players return from annual holidays. We have relationships with a couple of Super League clubs that will benefit us significantly once we get up and running in the same way Oliver Wilson and Ash Golding helped during the season.

You can never be sure obviously because injuries happen so having a strong permanent cohort of players topped up by short-term loans should make for a really strong playing group.

What was your season highlight?

Probably seeing a vibrant Odsal for the homecoming win over York. That night, someone showed me a YouTube video of abandoned stadiums or some such genre and two lads had broken into Odsal and filmed the decay and damage very evident.

Watching it, reminded me of the journey we have come on and I repeat my heartfelt thanks to all who have contributed to it.

And the low point?

Well there have been a few losses that really were real chokers but the most disappointing of the lot was Sheffield Eagles refusing to play their game against us.

It is a sad state of affairs when professional clubs choose not to play and it opens up all kinds of questions.

The L in RFL stands for League which is defined as “a number of entities all working together to achieve a joint aim”. I am not sure there was any evidence of that but hopefully the RFL have closed that Covid loophole.

The Bulls were given a probationary academy licence for the next two years, what can you tell us about the work going on to ensure that at the end of that period the club are awarded an Elite licence once again?

It was well reported that we were not issued a licence originally along with Castleford and Hull KR. I actually think the RFL strategy of having fewer Academies is the wrong solution but that doesn’t really matter.

We won a reprieve and we are getting to work delivering our improvement necessary to ensure that we should not give anyone the option of termination in the future.

Jason Hirst, our volunteer director of academy and youth, has a big job of work today and we have already seen and felt his impact around our community clubs.

He, together with Bolu Fagborun, will ensure that Bradford Bulls will continue to provide playing opportunities for young girls and boys in the city and surrounding areas.

You’ve touched upon the community clubs, do you feel the Bulls needs to work a lot closer with those in the Bradford area?

Yes, we see a clear responsibility to support community rugby league for all our network of clubs.

We recently had Wibsey play an important fixture at Odsal which proved to be a great success for them.

We would like to offer each club a home game to call their own, to market and to fund-raise for their own purposes. Rugby League in the city is a great extended family and the Bulls want to use our profile and resources to nurture the sport for the benefit of all.

Looking at the wider Rugby League picture, how do you assess the direction and the future of the sport?

I think there are some very big decisions that the sport has to make as a whole and some short-term challenges. But we are resilient and I think if there is a sincere pulling together there is every reason to believe we will have a vibrant future.

There are many issues to solve with TV deals, teams in Canada, France as well as the international game to name a few …

I have previously had some big jobs but I am also very aware that nobody really wants to hear from a former CEO spouting off on each and every subject so to a large extent I stay out of it!

The key decision-makers know where I am and what I believe in and obviously as Bradford chairman I try to represent our club’s interests as powerfully as possible. But I’ve done my stint in the firing line.

The one point I would make, categorically and unambiguously is that as a sport rugby league is better and stronger unified from top to bottom with one organisation looking after the whole eco system. We knew that 20 years ago and we should not have repeated the divisive duplication and waste of resources a second time.

The women’s game is going from strength to strength and 2022 looks to be bigger and better than ever. What are the club’s plans to ensure our women’s team can be competitive?

It is evident to everyone the women’s sport is on the increase and quite rightly so as well. The Bulls want to play a full part in providing a playing opportunity for women and girls to wear the red, amber and black.

I would encourage anyone to come along and support the team. We have even developed a season ticket offer for the women’s side only, so we are trying to make it as easy as possible to come along provide some support.

The whole concept of women’s rugby league is going from strength to strength and we now have to start looking at an women’s academy process to ensure young players have a navigable route to play for the Bulls women’s team.