Blackpool’s new rugby league star Joe Bullock wants to help the sport grow in his home town after his sensational, sudden rise.
Blackpool’s new rugby league star Joe Bullock wants to help the sport grow in his hometown after his sensational, sudden rise.
The former full-back and winger with Blackpool Scorpions has hit the big time like an express train this season as a prop forward at Wigan Warriors.
Despite the ultimate baptism of fire – his first three games have been against deadly rivals St Helens, fellow Super League giants Leeds Rhinos and Australian champions Sydney Roosters for the world title – the 26-year-old has earned rave reviews for his powerhouse performances.
Currently back living in his home town, the former Highfield pupil wants to give something back to the grassroots game on the Fylde coast.
Bullock told The Gazette: “I’d love to link up with the Scorpions again. I’ve told their first-team coach Dave Ratcliffe I will come down and do some sessions with the players to help the sport here.”
He may have suddenly sprung to prominence this season but Bullock’s is no overnight success story – his first Wigan contract ended with him being released six years ago – but the dedication and determination which began with Scorpions has been rewarded.
He explained: “I first got involved when I was around nine, having tried my hand at football. We didn’t have different junior age groups at Scorpions at the time and a small group of us got a team of Under-11s together to play in a league.
“I had a go at loose forward but then played as a full-back with Scorpions until the Under-18s.
“I played for Lancashire and the North West, then was selected for England Community Lions . I got my chance on the wing, playing against France and Australia Schoolboys.”
That England call-up brought him to the attention of top amateur side Wigan St Patrick’s, from where it was a short journey to the mighty Warriors.
“I was given a contract and played for Wigan’s Under-18s and Under-20s. But they let me go at the end of my contract because they were not looking for outside backs at the time. I joined Leigh and got my first taste of professional rugby.”
Bullock moved up and down the country with loan stints at South Wales Crusaders and then Barrow, whom he joined permanently ahead of the 2015 campaign.
“I was up there for four years and it was an important period for me learning the game,” he explained.
“We won a few trophies and promotion to the Championship, and I also developed as a prop.”
Barrow also instilled the belief in giving back to the community which Bullock hopes to bring to Blackpool.
“We were part-time up there but I was lucky enough to work for their community team,” he said. “I worked with the council and in schools, helping to get young people involved in sport.
“I was performing quite well for Barrow and got back on Wigan’s radar. They made me an offer at the end of last season and it was an easy decision.”
Bullock was used to biding his time and waiting for an opportunity at one of the biggest clubs in the world game, so he was not expecting his elevation to the first team to be quite so rapid.
He said: “I didn’t think I would be playing so soon but you want to test yourself and I was really grateful for the opportunity.
“Stepping up from the Championship to a debut at St Helens was a big challenge.
“The atmosphere was a incredible and a lot different to what I had been used to.
“But I knew it was an opportunity to express myself and you have to be confident, but I know I need to improve and focus on working hard.”
If this wasn’t enough of a step up, Bullock’s third Wigan match was Sunday’s World Club Challenge against Sydney, when he again made a big impression in a 20-8 defeat.
“It has been a bit of a whirlwind,” he admitted. “To play in a Test match environment against some of the world’s best players was phenomenal.
“But I know I’m not guaranteed my place and have to keep working hard because there are still massive improvements to make.”
Bullock admits he is still learning but has learned enough to give the Scorpions the benefits of his experience.
A season-ticket holder at Blackpool Panthers – who played at Bloomfield Road and later at Fylde RFC from 2005-10 – Bullock would love to help regenerate the sport on the Fylde coast.
“Watching the Panthers made me think how good it would be for Blackpool to have a top team,” he recalled.
“There is talent here and we had some success with Scorpions.
“It is difficult to grow a sport and it needs a lot of commitment, but Blackpool is a great town and you never know what can be achieved.”