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Bradford Bulls cloud hangs over Challenge Cup semis

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George Riley George Riley | 14:33 UK time, Thursday, 12 July 2012

There are few weekends I look forward to more than the Carnegie Challenge Cup semi-final one.

That's partly because my idiotic mates often schedule their weddings for the weekend of the final itself, but largely because the dangling of the Wembley carrot to four clubs at two neutral venues triggers great sporting drama.

Yet this year more than ever, the magic takes place amid a backdrop of misery over the distinct possibility that one of the competition's most successful teams could soon cease to exist.

Bradford Bulls, five-time winners of the sport's most famous knockout competition, may have been handed another stay of execution in their desperate fight to stay alive. But hope and time are fading.

On the face of it, the extension of their liquidation deadline to 27 July and ongoing talks with a local consortium offer fresh hope. But in reality the situation is deeply depressing for any rugby league fan.

I am a hugely passionate supporter of the game but am not enjoying this season one bit. Amid the usual bluster and positive watchwords offered to the media from Bulls administrator Brendan Guilfoyle this week was the admission that investing in a rugby league club is not an attractive proposition.

Administrators have extended the deadline for when the club needs to have a new owner. Photo: Getty.

The consortium of local businessmen with whom talks are continuing is, according to Guilfoyle, the only interested party. Other suitors were put off because Bradford are a loss-making business and Guilfoyle admits he is "not in control" of the club's destiny.

The issue here is not finding a buyer who can afford Bradford, but getting one who is willing to cover their losses. Having bought the lease of Odsal, the Rugby Football League now has to agree to sell it back to any buyer, and pay the players' July wages through an advance of TV money.

My concern is that these are shallow kisses of life to resuscitate a potentially fatally wounded beast. The RFL does not have Premier League resources and the desperate demise of the Bulls is further draining the game's central funds at a time when other clubs endure worrying financial times too.

Despite £500,000 being raised by fans and players and the auctioning of treasured memorabilia from the club's glorious past, Bradford have still had to hold a massive stock clearance of £50,000 worth of club shop goods just to raise cash for day-to-day running costs like travel for a coaching staff already working for free. If clubs like Bradford are a loss-making business, why would anyone want to invest?

Thankfully the players are doing their bit and the on-field product remains hugely watchable. I cannot wait for this weekend. Both semi-finals, Leeds v Wigan on Saturday and Huddersfield-Warrington on Sunday, are live on BBC Television and on the BBC Sport website, while we will have the first match live in full on 5 live sport.

With the aforementioned dark clouds overhead, the presence of a Wembley weekend in August is a hugely exciting incentive and all the players I've spoken to this week are buzzing.

For a rugby league player there is quite simply nothing like a Challenge Cup final at Wembley. That one moment when you walk out to the strains of Abide with Me, with your family in the stands and the world watching, is what any player strives for.

And now four sets of team-mates are just 80 minutes away from experiencing it together. On that Saturday afternoon at Wembley, worries over club finances, the licensing system, administration, liquidation, promotion and relegation will be a million miles away from anyone's thoughts.

It is a hugely special day and one that makes semi-final weekend such a massive moment in the rugby league calendar. For a team like Huddersfield, inexplicably stuttering after a strong Super League start, Sunday could be do or die for their season.

I went down to the Galpharm on Wednesday to see Greg Eden and Luke George, both of whom admitted this was their big chance to save the season.

Eden emerged from the tunnel looking gutted after a training session and told me he feared he had been dropped. The look in his eye was of a man who could see his personal Wembley dream fading. "I hope I'm wrong but I have a bad feeling," he told me.

Opponents Warrington have momentum and the hunger of a side to win at Wembley two years out of three - and they want "their" trophy back from Wigan who beat Leeds last year. The Rhinos were wounded by that, but used the setback to trigger an incredible and unlikely play-off run that yielded a barely believable Old Trafford triumph.

For all their Super League dominance, Leeds fans want the Cup that has eluded them since 1999. The Warriors want to build a dynasty.

This weekend is a huge window for a game that has been fire-fighting negative headlines this season and two blood-and-thunder semi-finals live on terrestrial television, radio and online would provide a major shot in the rugby league arm.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    As per usual, the utter ineptitude and almost certainly outright corruption, of just a few people who run/own things ruin it all for everyone else, those who've been in charge of Bradford for the last few seasons should have no right to own anything except the clothes they walk around in, until they pay off the debts that have accumulated while they mismanaged the club, but justice like that NEVER happens in real life.

    As for the semi-finals, they should be a pair of crackers, they normally are anyway, but why didn't the RFL host both matches at Odsal, maybe even as a double header, they own the ground afterall and any extra positive exposure for Bradford could only be a good thing.

    Wigan by 12
    Warrington by 7

  • Comment number 2.

    If it's dry I think Wigan and Warrington could win heavily but if it rains it should even things up a little since it usually means low scoring games with lots of errors.

    Wigan are the standout side in Super League for me this season and Leeds recent results apart still look too open IMHO. Warrington don't look as good this year without Matt King but Huddersfield are on a wretched run of form so I still think they will have too much for them. I actually would love to see Nathan Brown win something with the Giants though to cap off his time there (assuming they don't go all the way in the playoffs).

  • Comment number 3.

    Would love to see Leeds win, but I can't see it

  • Comment number 4.

    Why are so many sporting clubs so heavily in debt? I don't believe every single owner is inept or corrupt especially since the vast majority are successful business people away from the sporting industry. I suspect the truth is that those in charge cave in to the pressure from fans of these clubs who demand more and more success and fans have to accept some of the responsibility for the financial problems of many if not most clubs.

    This brings us to the brunt of the problem. The vast majority of any professional club's expenditure is on players wages and it's quite clear both rugby and football are paying the players too much. When a Portsmouth player is being paid over £2m a year to play in the third tier then sport has to acknowledge it has major problems.

    I've often thought rugby has led the way in sporting ideas. The wage cap seemed like a perfect way to prevent clubs like Bradford going bust but it's obviously failed. I can't see how a club can accumulate debts of £1m+ with the cap in place so can anyone from Bradford explain where the over expenditure has happened?

  • Comment number 5.

    Some are blaming the Iestyn Harris saga but what happened to the 450K for Stuart Fielden?

  • Comment number 6.

    Really looking forward to the matches this weekend. Wigan to beat Leeds surely, Huddersfield look dire so Warrington to win that semi. If so, that means the two best teams on current form to meet at Wembley for what should be a cracker of a final.

    RememberScarborough - in this case the blame has to reside squarely with the previous board. I don't recall Bradford fans demanding the club spend huge amounts on players; it has always been regarded as a big club and thus always able to attract better quality players. I've moaned about the Bradford situation enough, but here are some of the reasons for the debt:

    1. Consistently paying player salaries at the top end of the salary cap - or, as some have alleged, breaching the salary cap
    2. The Iestyn Harris saga and the costly fiscal penalty incurred (again, I am sure Bradford fans did not demand that he join the club)
    3. Season ticket prices not in line with club expenditure (£70, yes £70 for season ticket)
    4. A vast, ageing stadium that must have cost a fortune to maintain
    5. Ignoring tax bills over a period of time
    6. Hiring Steve McNamara as coach leading to a downward spiral of results and reduced attendances - although in fairness, leaving him with a club shorn of it's best players like the Paul brothers, Fielden and Peacock

    I could go on.....

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    I agree breaking the salary cap clearly didn't help, but others have done that too. Bradford have just been very poorly run. Hopefully the proposed takeover will materialise and the Bulls fans will be out in force at Odsal again next season.

    As for the semi-finals, it's hard to see Huddersfield beating Wire after seven defeats from eight, but I fancy Leeds v Wigan to be a tight one. The Rhinos have a habit of raising their game in knock-out scenarios, with the exception of Challenge Cup Finals that is. Best price you can get on a Wigan v Warrington final is now just 1-2.

    Follow @RLTipster on Twitter

  • Comment number 9.

    With the greatest of respect how on earth can the Bulls be allowed to carry on in Super league. All this rubbish about 'we cant allow the Bulls to fold' shows that the RFL and so called experts have lost touch with the game. If this was Cas, Wakey, or Salford would they be saying the same, i doubt it very much. The problem with the game now is fans have lost interest all throughout the game. When Haven went into administration 2 years ago they were given 9 points deduction and had to get on with it. We all know that Super Duper League wont relegate the Bulls but will find some way of keeping them in. Bradford broke the rules and should be punished just like ANY club should be for what has happened. What is very worrying is that the RFL in the license process didn't find a problem that in anyone's eyes must have hit them in the face with the financial state of the club. While i have sympathy for the Bulls fans i am sorry to say take your medicine and rebuild like everyone else (outside SL) would have to do.

  • Comment number 10.

    There's still cause to be optimistic George, crowds are still on the up and the youth system is still producing some crackers. Let's hope the Bulls can be saved and we can focus on a cracking run in. Sometimes being a RL fan you spend more time focussing on off field issues than the superb game we have (such as Wire- Catalan on Monday).

    I am very disappointed with the licensing system. It smacks of weak leadership at the top of the game. I was very much in favour of what it was trying to achieve. It was supposed to stabilise the game & yet we seem to be no better off than when we had P&R. Didn't they have a big 4 accountancy firm to scrutinise the clubs 3 year business plans? The RFL should explain itself on what those reports said.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think you're being kind to the RFL toffeesaint with "disappointed", it's a farce. Relegate Bradford newco (I presume they will re-surface) and promote Halifax or Fev or Leigh etc. based on performance.

    Heart-Leeds, head-Wigan. Come on Rhinos!

  • Comment number 12.

    Sorry, but there isn't even a debate here. Let them go. Scrabbling about trying to prop Bradford up for a bit longer until the inevitable is ridiculous. No-one has an automatic right to be in The Superleague (even with the farcical lack of relegation).

  • Comment number 13.

    Having played both codes during my youth and watched both codes over many years, i believe sad to say that RL is on the decline in this country and as been over the last 5 years. i am saying this as a bulls season ticket holder over many years, there are 2 big problems with league at the moment. 1 the low numbers of support throughtout both super league and RL as a whole, which means some clubs are struggling on the finance side and virtually running on a shoe string budget leading to a massive gap between the haves and have nots leading to a two tier SL. 2nd the Rl administrators at the top seem to have lost contact with the rank and file supporter and listen to his views and concerns. They seem unable to generate cash into the league through sponsorship, relying on gimmicks such as magic weekend which in my opinion does not generate enough money to warrant its continuation. 7 games over 2 days pulling in a gate of 58,000 tells you something about the state of the game in this country, also another massive mistake was doing away with the GB team and replacing it with a England outfit who in the last game versus the exiles were made to look second rate and this against a exiles team containing many players who would not get in their countries 2nd team, mind you what can you expect with a muppet like Steve Mac in charge.Its not all gloom and doom but if we are to compete at this top level against teams like Aus and NZ we need to be picking from all home country players rather than just english born. I also believe you need to have relegation in SL back again and a tighter control over Player budgets, How can teams like Warrington get away with it. Regarding the Semi Finals. Leeds are not good enough in the forwards to beat Wigan, Warrington to beat Huddersfield easy. Danny Brough head is already at saints along with his coach. Which makes me wonder why keep players and coaches when they are moving clubs at the end of the season, when you can promote your assitant and 2nd team players and give them a go, better than the players looking at Nathan Brown listening to him preaching royalty and commitment with a saints contract in his back pocket, What a wa--er.

  • Comment number 14.

    Wigan & Wire final. Wigan by two scores, Wire by loads. Will be there on Saturday, but at a wedding Sunday - like you say, inconsiderate some people. Ticket booked for final already, so I'm going whatever happens.

    As for Bradford. Yes it will be sad if they go bust, but it's not putting a cloud on my weekend.

    This should be two seperate blogs. It doesn't help when on one of the best weekends of Rugby League, the mess of some of the clubs is brought up in the same conversation.

  • Comment number 15.

    Surely George, with this 'cloud hanging over the semis' you could have just written the column about them rather than pontificate endlessly on the Bulls situation which has been covered everywhere. I hope this weekends coverage is not Bulls dominated too. Talk about the game!

  • Comment number 16.

    Bradford born and bred, to me it is simple, the club like the city has been badly run.
    The councils poured cash into a soccer stadium on an ego trip and lost, Valley Parade is in a dump and terrible access and no parking. Odsal is a developers' dream, close to M62, parking and land so why did the council not take the lead? Simple, no strategy, no brains. Bradford Bulls are an indicator of the slow demise of a once proud city now a poor relation to Leeds. All the wealth and investment will go to Leeds as Bradford is now the home of pound shops and chavs......oh and a big hole where the city centre was! Thanks Westfield and Council!

  • Comment number 17.

    Just to agree with post number one, although I would of played both semi finals at Odsal on different days. Anything that can put a few quid into Northern's pocket.

  • Comment number 18.

    It's a pity that Bradford aren't in a semi-final the other side could let them win.

  • Comment number 19.

    What on earth has Super League Bradfords self inflicted mess got to do with the Rugby Football league Challange Cup?

    Bradford are out, so none as far as I can see.

    The Sl clubs are controlled by SLE Ltd not the RFL because they wanted it that way and all the money the game brought in. They have consistantly made a mess of it.

    The Challange Cup was always a chance for the "smaller2 clubs to make a shock and also a few£'s in some interesting games.

    That is long gone now, and the attendances at the semi's will show that interest is getting less and less.

    If the RFL is stuggling to sell the Final, then isn't it obvious something is wrong?

    Yeh Sooooper Dooper League, total ineptitude with no fall back because they are not interested in anything except themselves.

  • Comment number 20.

    I am in no way a rugby league expert, but looking from the outside I always believe they shot themselves in the foot the day they took the SKY money and became a summer sport. Moving the fixtures deprived clubs of those bumper Xmas matches etc. in exchange for more TV.

    Ultimately, as is shown in football,too much TV devalues the product. Tinkering with a system to protect interests because tv wants it reduces integrity of the competition and drives away fans.

 

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