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Bradford and Keighley helping diverse Laisterdyke team shine

BRADFORD Bulls and Keighley Cougars have teamed up, with the clubs' foundations helping to create quite the story at Laisterdyke Leadership Academy.

Their year nine boys team, with the support of Bulls and Cougars, will be taking part in the Yorkshire Plate, an RFL Champion Schools Competition.

And it is a team with quite the unique backstory, with South Asian, Eastern European and African boys all playing a part.

Saima Hussain, head of the Community Cougars Foundation, said: "It's important to try and bring rugby league into secondary schools, because that will help the kids move to community clubs as the next step.

"A lot of South Asian youngsters tend to play cricket, but I want to sell this sport to them as it's a really good one.

"We've got players from all sorts of different backgrounds at Laisterdyke though, Pakistanis, Bengalis, Eastern Europeans, then a boy from Africa, and one of Afro-Caribbean heritage."

Cougars and Bulls want these boys to progress to community clubs like Bradford Dudley Hill, like other ethnic minorities have in previous years.

Explaining why, Hussain said: "It's very important for us at Cougars and Bulls that we provide these children with a doorstep club like Dudley Hill.

"I'm conscious that some parents might not drive or might not be well off financially, so ideally it's a club that is a walkable distance from Laisterdyke, which Dudley Hill is.

"There needs to be that club there, so the kids can stay in the game once they're not playing in school any more."

In this instance, Hussain does not see Cougars and Bulls as rivals.

She explained: "I just see it as the two of us working together to develop young people, not as a rivalry.

"This partnership is powerful, and I've worked with Leeds Rhinos in the past. Their CEO Gary Hetherington got us tickets to a game at Headingley, which was an environment that really inspired the kids.

"It doesn't matter about traditional rivalries, I'll take any opportunity I can to give these children the best experience possible."

Hussain added: "We've got four schools on our programme, as in addition to Laisterdyke, there's Holy Family, Eden Boys and Carlton Bolling.

"Laisterdyke is probably the strongest at the moment in terms of participation, but it's early days yet.

"The rest are only year sevens, and we wouldn't normally work with year nines like we do at Laisterdyke, as they'd usually be at a club by now, but with the pandemic, they didn't have chance to even play contact rugby league until September, despite being formed in May 2020.

"We've got a full team of exciting players, not just seven or eight, who all want the ball, so it all bodes well."

Discussing Laisterdyke's participation in the Yorkshire Plate, Hussain said: "We got in on a wildcard, as no other schools in Bradford came forward, having been out of action for so long.

"Initially we were going to play in the (tougher) Yorkshire Cup, but when we received our fixtures for that, we'd have been up against schools full of players that were at top community clubs in Castleford and Hull.

"I think we could have been competitive, but the school have understandably decided that this is more our level.

"We're excited to get started in the Plate in February now."

The two foundations could not do this on their own of course, and Hussain said they are particularly thankful to certain staff members at Laisterdyke Leadership Academy.

By that she means the head of PE, Mr. Lee Allington; the principal, Mr. Steve Dixon; year nine head, Mrs. Emma Atkinson; year eight head, Mr. Majid Hussain; Ms. Anna Hainsworth, and the school office staff.

Hussain said that all of them have played a fundamental role in ensuring pupils develop both their educational knowledge as well as the resilience to become successful future leaders of the local community.