Bulls prepare hot welcome for the Odsal man out

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The Independent Online

As quick homecomings go, Lee Gilmour's return to Odsal today could be one of the stormier ones. The former Bradford utility player will be back for this afternoon's Powergen Challenge Cup tie in St Helens' colours and there is no guarantee that the welcome mat will be out for him.

Remarks attributed to Gilmour after his departure were unflattering towards his previous club and particularly to the strong New Zealand influence there. He has wisely distanced himself from those provocative views, but there is no doubt that he was a frustrated player at Odsal - largely because of his inability to tie down a regular place in the starting line-up.

Since his sensational first season as a starting second-rower at Wigan, Gilmour has become a bits-and-pieces player, with a few games here in the back row, a few there in the centre, a cap or two for Great Britain on the wing and far more time than he would like on the bench.

His new coach, Ian Millward, believes that breaking that cycle, rather than living up to inflammatory quotes, is his big challenge. "The biggest pressure for Lee is becoming an 80-minute player," he said. "He's always seemed to be picked on the bench. Even when Yorkshire had players drop out last year, they still picked him on the bench.

"I can't guarantee him a place, but I promised him I'd give him the chance and he's been quite outstanding for us so far. He doesn't need to prove anything at Odsal. He just needs to carry on the way he is. If he plays regularly for us, I think he will be starting Tests for Great Britain at the end of the season."

That depends on how Gilmour, now established as a first-choice second-rower, shapes up in the big club matches and Bradford have already shown that any match against them is going to involve a major effort. Despite losing a lot of experience and having key players missing through injury, the Bulls have hit their stride immediately. Their first two competitive outings, against the Penrith Panthers in the World Club Challenge and Wigan on the opening night of Super League, have shown them at their destructive best.

Even with so many players missing, the balance of the Bradford side is compelling, with the brute force of their famous pack complemented by a greater willingness to get the ball wide. The main beneficiary of that last week was Lesley Vainikolo, the Tongan wing, when he equalled a Super League record by scoring five tries past Wigan's Brian Carney, who would have been many people's choice as the best winger in the British game last season.

Nobody could have stopped Vainikolo on the night and doing so is never a one-man job, but the high-class winger in direct opposition to him at Odsal will be the Australian, Darren Albert, who can match him for pace, if not for power.

On the opposite wing could be Saints' new Samoan, Dom Feaunati, who made a scoring debut for them against Hull last week. It will be a while before he can aspire to the heights Vainikolo has reached, but he has made a promising start. He and his fellow-countryman, Maurie Fa'asavalu, could make a considerable impact as the season goes on, but it is the work of Gilmour and the forwards around him that will be more relevanttoday.