5th September 2018, 16:27
Bradford Bulls are coming to Llanelli this Sunday
West Wales Raiders are playing their biggest home game of the season on Sunday, when at Stebonheath Park in Llanelli, they host former Super League giants Bradford Bulls in a Betfred League 1 match
When anyone mentions Super League to the Welsh sporting public, it’s Bradford Bulls’ name that will probably be amongst the first four or five teams that they think about. Many may have watched their dramatic Challenge Cup Final victory over Leeds Rhinos at the Millennium Stadium in 2003, or will have witnessed their heartbreak at Millennium Magic in 2007 where many thought they were cheated out of a second win at the stadium over their Yorkshire rivals.
For football fans, imagine Manchester United being hit with financial problems, going into administration, getting relegated to the Championship, losing a play-off final, going into administration again and being relegated to League 1.
Substitute the team name to Bradford Bulls and that’s the exact story. From 2000-2006 there was always a trophy in the cabinet – Super League Grand Final winners in 2001, 2003 and 2005, they followed the up with a World title each time in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
But now, after two relegations in four years, they are now playing at professional rugby league’s lowest tier alongside teams like the Raiders, North Wales Crusaders, Coventry Bears and Hemel Stags.
They’re not even currently in pole position to go back up automatically. After losing a recent top of the table clash against the unfancied York City Knights, it is their county rivals who top the table by two points with just three games to go. Just one club gets automatic promotion.
If York win their next three games, Bradford will have to go through the play-offs where two other former Super League sides in Oldham and Workington Town are likely to be their competitors.
But now they’re making their first visit to South Wales in seven years. In 2011, they lost 32-28 to Leeds Rhinos as part of Millennium Magic in front of over 20,000 fans. For their game against West Wales Raiders this week, 5% of that would be a great success and would create a fantastic atmosphere at Stebonheath Park.
Bradford, who are likely to field Newport-born Welsh international Dalton Grant, are now coached by John Kear, who is also the current head coach of the Welsh national side and has previously coached both Hull and Sheffield Eagles to Challenge Cup Final wins and England to a World Cup semi-final.
He said: “It may be a cliché but we’re taking it one game at a time. We realise that we’re two points behind York right now and if they slip up then points difference could come into it.
“Bradford, and the current administration, are in League 1 because of the errors made by the previous administration. This club means a lot to the city and it’s my job to get them promoted.”
Kear won’t exactly be using this match as a scouting mission in his role of Wales head coach as he has been watching videos of Raiders matches and indeed other games featuring Welsh players.
He added: “I’m aware of all of the Welsh qualified players in the league including those who are at West Wales, with Steve Parry and Morgan Evans already experienced as full international players, and I know a number have recently played for the under 19s too.
“We’ve watched some recent West Wales Raiders matches – last week’s game against North Wales Crusaders and the match against Coventry Bears where they did very well - so we’ve a fair idea of who we’ll be against.”
The Rugby Football League have graced the event by naming one of Wales’ most experienced match officials as the referee.
James Jones, who has taken charge of matches in rugby union’s European Cup and in all the top rugby union leagues in Europe, has now converted to the 13-man game.
He’s refereed the Scarlets many times both at their current Parc y Scarlets home in Llanelli, and at the old Stradey Park, but now he’s looking forward to his gig at Stebonheath Park, the traditional home of Llanelli AFC, but now run by West Wales Raiders.
Jones said: “It's a massive season for me within the RFL system and it's great to get another run in the pro game. It will be a proud moment refereeing on home soil at pro level, especially being able to have mum and dad down to watch. It’s another step on the ladder and the hard work will continue.”
There’s also another aspect to this game. Local rugby league player and coach Dafydd Hellard is fighting testicular cancer and he needs vital funds for his treatment that isn’t currently available on the NHS in the Merthyr County Borough which is where he resides.
Raiders CEO Peter Tiffin said: “Having worked with Daf on numerous occasions over the past couple of years and most recently with the Wales under 16’s we have got to know each other very well, Daf has done so much for the sport and has continued to do so even under his current circumstances. Myself and the other directors wanted to help Daf and thought this fixture would be one of our biggest crowds of the season, so let’s get down to Stebonheath this Sunday to show our support to Daf and also to show that we are all together in Wales Rugby League.”
Book your ticket for this exciting fixture by following this link https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/boxoffice/venueplan/MrXFVEjnHJOX