Bradford Bulls RLFC’s 10 Greatest Players
The Bradford Bulls have fallen on hard times. The club was a pioneer of the Super League era and arguably attained its biggest success after the game transitioned into the summer sport we know today. That Golden Era from 1996-2011 was recent, but after falling into administration, being relegated, and, because of those factors, being liquidated, those times seem generations ago.
The Bradford club has had a strange history, but its lineage can be traced back to 1907 as a founder member of the Rugby Football League. That club, Bradford F.C. switched to football and members who wanted to continue playing rugby league formed a different club, Bradford Northern.
The Bradford clubs, in whatever guise, have always had a strong rivalry with Leeds, along with smaller rivalries against Huddersfield and Halifax. There have been many great players in the history of Bradford rugby and this list looks to count down the top 10 that have turned out for the club.
10. Frank Whitcombe
Sometimes a player is more about the sum of his parts than the stats he puts up. That is the case with Frank Whitcombe, a rugby union convert from Cardiff who found his way to Bradford Northern in 1938 after a stint playing rugby league with Broughton Rangers.
Whitcombe played 331 times for Bradford and in that time he scored just 35 tries. His rep career, though, shows his worth to the game as he claimed 18 caps for a mixture of Wales, Great Britain, and Yorkshire. Honed in union, Whitcombe was a fantastic scrummager and he weighed over 114 kg, making him a force to be reckoned with in the loose. Whitcombe was also deceptively good with ball in hand as he had grown up playing fullback before growing into his prop body.
9. Karl Fairbank
The phrase “tough as old boots” gets thrown around a lot when describing players from the past, but Karl Fairbank was genuinely as tough as they come. Nicknamed “Konkreet” for his stature, playing style, and overall fearsome existence, chants of “Karl’s gonna get you” were regularly heard on the Bradford Northern terraces over a 10 year period from 1986 to 1996.
Fairbank was that enforcer figure that every team needed as we started to progress towards the modern game. His play with Northern earned him representative recognition as he turned out 15 times for Great Britain during the peak years of his career. One feels that Fairbank would have been just as happy playing in a local park, as long as he got to hit someone.
8. Trevor Foster
A former rugby union flanker in Wales for Newport, Trevor Foster made the switch to the 13 man code in 1938 and never looked back. Foster went on to play 432 times for Bradford Northern in a career that would last until 1955. In those games he scored 130 tries and even chipped in with one goal, for a total point scoring haul of 392.
Foster was a fixture in the Wales team in the 1940s, playing 16 times and scoring five tries. He also turned out three times for Great Britain, though his international opportunities were hampered as his playing career took in the WWII period. Foster’s greatest asset may have been his discipline. During his 17 year career he was never cautioned, much less sent off – unusual for a forward during this time period.
7. James Lowes
Bradford was the third team of James Lowes’ professional career as the late blooming hooker played for the Bulls between 1996 and 2003. Lowes turned out 238 times for Bradford, sniping away from the dummy half position to pick up 98 tries, an impressive amount for a hooker in the modern game. He also added six goals and (bizarrely) two field goals for a total Bradford career of 406 points.
Lowes was outstanding early in his career with the Bulls. In 1997 he was the club’s leading try scorer and he won the Man of Steel Award as Bradford claimed their first Super League title. Lowes was also a key part of the Bulls 2001 Grand Final winning team, scoring a try as they beat Wigan 37-6.
6. Robbie Paul
A native of Tokoroa, New Zealand, Robbie Paul would never have dreamed when growing up that he would one day become a club legend half way around the world. After a stint at Waitakere City in 1994, Paul joined Bradford at the age of 18 and played for the club for 12 years before moving to Huddersfield in 2006.
In his time at Bradford, Paul played in 241 games, scoring 224 tries, and putting up 908 total points. Averaging almost a try per game in the Super league era, Paul was an unplayable magician on the pitch and at his best he could seemingly do what he wanted to elude defenders and breakthrough for tries.
5. David Redfearn
There was no mystery with what you were about to face when David Redfearn lined up across from you in the 1970s. The Bradford winger was a pure pace merchant, so much so that he remains one of the fastest players in club history even with the advances in nutrition and training that we see today.
Redfearn played 470 games for Bradford between 1971 and 1982. During that time he scored 240 tries and picked up nine representative caps combined for England and Great Britain. Redfearn was a winger who simply knew how to cross the line, routinely using his electrifying pace to burn defenders and score in the corner.
4. Keith Mumby
Keith Mumby was a Bradford Northern stalwart. He played for the club for a remarkable 20 years, making his debut in 1973 and retiring in 1993. During that period Mumby turned out for a record 588 appearances for the club, scoring 68 tries, and kicking 779 goals. His points scoring total stood as a record for over a decade until it was beaten by Paul Deacon in June 2006.
Mumby started his Northern career with a bang. Making his debut at the age of 16, he scored a try and kicked 12 goals during the game. This was (and is) a record for the most points scored in a first appearance for Bradford. Mumby was also subbed just eight times during his career.
3. Ernest Ward
Ernest Ward, one of Bradford’s “Millennium Masters” had a decorated rugby league career at Bradford Northern. Ward made his debut for the club in 1941, embarking on a 12 year career with Bradford until he moved to Castleford in 1953. Ward compiled 1,427 points for Bradford in his 391 games, scoring 117 tries and 538 goals. He also represented England, Great Britain, and the British Empire a combined 40 times, scoring a total of 122 points on representative duty. One of Ward’s biggest strengths was his versatility. While at Bradford he was often the best player on the park, regardless of whether he lined up at fullback, centre or in the back row.
2. Ellery Hanley
It would be interesting to see just how different the rugby league world we know would look if Ellery Hanley had not had a falling out with his bosses at Bradford Northern. That spat saw Hanley shipped off to Wigan in 1985 and the Warriors flourished as Hanley produced the form he had shown in his last season at Bradford for the Lancashire side on a consistent basis.
Bradford Northern, though, is where Hanley began his career. He made 126 appearances for the club between 1978 and 1985 as he learned and grew into the game. Even in those formative years he was a beast, with the bulk of his 89 tries for the club coming during his remarkable 1984-85 campaign. Hanley scored a ridiculous 55 tries that season, becoming the first non-winger to cross the 50 try barrier in more than 70 years.
1. Jack McLean
Jack McLean was a New Zealand rugby union international before switching codes to play for Bradford in 1950. McLean was a member of the side that topped the table in 1952 and that was a Yorkshire Cup winner in 1954. He had an incredible strike rate for Bradford, where he scored 261 tries in 221 games for the club.
McLean’s finest hour with Bradford was during the 1951-52 season. During that campaign he scored 63 tries in just 46 games as teams struggled to cope with his speed, side step, and his overall finishing ability. When McLean was brought to the club there were some who thought he would play as a forward, such was his size, but as the fastest player on the books he became one of the best wingers in rugby league history.
I would have to put Jack right up there with the likes of Brian Bevan and Eric Batten, among the top five of all-time.