Sitting pretty at the top of the Betfred League One table heading into the final stretch of the league season, Gregg McNally and Bradford Bulls look well set for an immediate return to the second tier after relegation last season. Get ’em Onside was keen to discuss the season with the Bulls’ former Whitehaven junior who explained that, despite a home defeat on July 22nd to York City Knights, the mood in the camp wasn’t all doom and gloom.
“It wasn’t as bad as people would have expected,” 27-year-old McNally shared. “It was obviously disappointing to lose but if we concentrate on our own performances for the next 8 games we can still win that automatic promotion place so I’d say we’re in a very good place still.” The game itself – which York won 30-28 – was arguably the best match in the third tier this season where both teams showcased some of their best and worst throughout the game. “It really was a game of two halves wasn’t it? Fair play to York they came out the blocks flying and startled us you could say and led by 24 points before he even got going,” Bradford’s number 14 articulated. Indeed, trailing 24-0 at home in the latter stages of the first half was certainly not something the players or fans of the Odsal club would have expected but, remarkably, the hosts came back with a vengeance in the second stanza, drawing level with just under fifteen minutes left. York, though, crossed again through Judah Mazive, a try which was crucially converted which, despite Dalton Grant’s late score, Dane Chisholm’s missed conversion handed the points to the Knights. Nevertheless, the Bulls’ performance after the break showed just how dangerous the team can be. “In the second half we showed great character and resilience to come back fighting and nearly nick a point in the end,” McNally expressed.“If we’d have started well like we wanted to, I think it might of been a different story but it’s all ifs and buts now and York deserved the win in the end.”
That loss shouldn’t, however, detract from a strong season from Bradford. While they were the massive favourites to win the league in pre-season, the three time World Club Challenge winners have only lost twice this season and have often put huge scores on the board, entertaining their fans in the process. As the club aim to return to the higher realms of rugby league following a decade of financial troubles, McNally was one of many signings the club made last winter in preparation for their maiden third tier campaign. On the books of Leigh Centurions last season, the former Ireland international is on track to experience promotion this campaign off the back of relegation last season and that promise of helping the Bulls make their way back up through the leagues was a big lure for the full back. “It’s been well documented as to what happened at Leigh at the end of last year. When Bradford came in and gave me a opportunity I jumped at the chance,” he noted. “The club may be in League One and rebuilding but it’s a massive name around the world and I’m very proud to be part if this great club.” The lure of the coach was also a huge part of McNally’s signature and, of John Kear, he explained that he was impressed with his plans for the club. “I really liked the plan he had for the club and the thought of being part of building Bradford back up from League One up was a great and exciting journey to be part of,” he professed.
This year hasn’t been all plain sailing for the playmaker, though, with injury blighting his campaign thus far. “I’ve had a pretty frustrating year this year with injuries. After missing out on a full pre-season, I knew that it would be tough at first but I eventually found myself hitting a bit of form against Oldham only to tear my quad 3 days later at Hunslet,” the Cumbrian admitted. “I feel like I’ve let the Bradford fans and John Kear down by not being able to show them the real Gregg McNally as of yet and I aim on being able to do that for the rest of the year and putting in some good performances will will hopefully please them,” he added – something he made a start on by crossing for a try in the York match.
Having broken onto the rugby league scene as something of a wonderkid with Whitehaven in the late-noughties, it’s perhaps surprising that McNally – a man who seems to have been playing for a very long time – is only 27. Indeed, such was the ability and promise he showed when he broke through with the Cumbrians, Huddersfield Giants swooped to sign McNally in late 2008 before loaning him back to Whitehaven. Unfortunately for him, he only made one appearance in Super League with the Giants but, while many may view that as a disappointment, the player himself believes that his time with the club greatly benefitted him as a player. “Personally, Huddersfield was a great move in my eyes. Yes, I only played the one Super League game but the things I learned off Nathan Brown, who for me is a great coach, were invaluable,” McNally expressed. “He saw the full back in me and decided to change me to that position and I’m grateful for that as I think it’s brought my game on loads and I’m enjoying the extra space it brings.”
That positional move has been something which both Leigh Centurions (2012-2017) and, currently, Bradford have benefited from. Viewed as something of a coup when they signed him early this year, McNally revealed that the chance to help restore the club to former glories was a big pull. “That’s something that really excited me about joining the club. Growing up Bradford have always been one of the top clubs in the English game and that’s a big attraction to people still,” he expressed. The fact that Bradford boast such a silverware-laden history has, though, meant that every team ups their game when they face the Bulls but, reflecting on the season thus far, McNally said that it’s more a case of teams upping their game just to get the win. “Everyone wants to beat everyone in every game – it’s not so much knocking us of out perch it’s about winning games,” he explained.
Following the defeat to York, it is merely points difference that separates the fallen giants at the top from the Knights. That, however, is unlikely to panic the Bulls – especially with the experience in their playing ranks and the stewardship of John Kear – and McNally told Get ’em Onside that it is very much business as usual for the club. “Nothing changes for us. Every week it’s all about us and how we turn up. If we turn up with the right attitude and commitment we’ve shown over the past few months there’s nothing more we can do but keep trying to perform well, pick up the wins and keep moving forward,” he expressed.
One final question put to McNally was regarding the future of rugby league in this country – as well as France and Canada – amid the infighting and squabbles that prevail at the top of the sport. The Cumbrians’ view is that promotion and relegation are vital for the longevity and future progression of the sport. “Promotion and relegation has to stay in so it’s not a closed shop. I think sometimes the Super League clubs turn their noses up at Championship and League One when there are some great players who could play top flight rugby,” he declared. Indeed, that attitude may slowly be diminishing with the likes of Wigan recently signing Chris Hankinson and, for 2019, Joe Bullock from Championship teams Swinton and Barrow respectively while Warrington have signed London’s Matt Davis to mention just three players but it does, however, still prevail. A further point McNally made is that franchising would be dangerous for the sport before mentioning man who could revitalise rugby league. “If we go back to franchising, personally I think the game will rapidly decline,” he explained, continuing “I’d like to see what Eddie Hearn can bring to the game.” Expressing his belief that there are too many people in the game who don’t like change, McNally’s suggestion that Hearn could boost the sport has been widely mentioned this year and Get ’em Onside is also keen to see how the boxing promoter – and son of Barry, a man who changed the profile of both Darts and Snooker – could help rugby league going forward.
It’s evident that the sport is changing and the Bradford star is of the view that the game needs to embrace that change. Speaking of the promise of further foreign teams joining the UK’s system to join Toronto and the French clubs, McNally views that as a good thing. “Who wouldn’t want to say they’ve played over there? The world is evolving and I think the game needs to as well,” he expressed. Indeed, with Bradford looking near certainties for earning one of the two promotion spots into the Betfred Championship for next season, he may get the chance with the Bulls to travel to either Toulouse or Canada for a match – if they don’t reach Super League – but, either way, the quality of McNally alongside the other ability and experience in the Bulls team will see the team recover from their York defeat – which they are already doing following their victory in London over the Skolars at the weekend – and, barring a spectacular collapse, will be in the second tier next season.
After hitting the bottom, the Bulls are now on their way back up through the system and it is a journey that McNally is enjoying.