Rugby League

1895 Cup

10 May 2024

Bradford's Tom Holmes on his Rugby League return and Wembley chance | 1895 Cup Semi-Finals

Bradford's Tom Holmes on his Rugby League return and Wembley chance | 1895 Cup Semi-Finals

Bradford’s Tom Holmes made a remarkable return to Rugby League just over a fortnight ago - after fearing he would never play the sport again.

He now finds himself just 80 minutes from a place at Wembley Finals Day, which he admits would be a super story in itself.

Towards the back end of last year’s Betfred Championship season, the 28-year-old was devastatingly diagnosed with what doctors believed to be an extremely rare form of skin cancer, called subcutaneous panniculitis-like T-cell lymphoma (SPTCL).

After a difficult few months for Holmes and his family and with the uncertainty and lack of knowledge surrounding his illness, he then received some positive news in late March. His general health was stabilising, and recent hospital scans showed that any activity was shrinking considerably.

Given the green light to try and resume normal life activities, Holmes embarked on a mission to play for Bradford once more, and after a few weeks of training he made his first appearance back in Round 6 against Widnes.




“When I received the news of the diagnosis last year, I just wanted to be with my family and get myself right the best I could,” Holmes admitted, who has tackled any adversity with a head-on approach.

“I didn’t know whether I would play again. When I got the okay to go back to normality, I couldn’t wait to get back playing.

“I’ve had it tough mentally over the past few months, so getting back out on the field is a big driving force for me and it’s a big relief that I’ve been able to put my boots back on.

“It feels a bit surreal actually.”

Holmes is also grateful for the support he and his family have received from the Rugby League family throughout one of the toughest times of his life, and explains how he is in a much better place now, mentally:

“I’ve mentioned it quite a few times that the support I received throughout Rugby League - even just messages and posts on social media - it showed that people really cared and it was really amazing to get support like that.

“My family, my partner, and my kids have been really supportive throughout, as have Bradford – and getting back with the lads has helped me too.

“I used to go down to some of the games when I wasn’t playing and go in with a smile on my face when I saw everyone. But deep down it was tough. I knew it was hard to cope with for everyone, so I would sort of put on a bit of a front whenever I came down to watch, or when I saw any of the fans.”

“It was a tough seven months but to be back in training around the boys and getting back to normality has changed my mindset completely.”




His return to action was marked with a memorable try in front of a fantastic home crowd, which is an occasion Holmes recalls as being a mix of emotions. Looking ahead, he is keen to try and replicate his fine form from last season:

“Last year I probably played my best rugby I ever have in a long time, so I was really gutted I couldn’t carry this on when I got the news of my illness.

“Coming back a few weeks ago, I didn’t even have a pre-season under my belt, so I was a bit nervous coming back. Playing a game is totally different to the training.

“To score a try felt really good and the walk out with my kids was a special occasion.

"The fans were amazing as usual. It would have been nice to get a win - that would have topped it off – I’d have even swapped the try for a win. We felt like we had that game won, so it was gutting to lose at the end like that.




“It was pretty emotional but now it’s just about getting back to my best. I had another game against Swinton where I felt even better in that game. Week on week I’m just going to slowly build - Eamon O’Carroll understands that I haven’t had a full pre-season under my belt, but I’m back in the team and I want to perform and be even better than last year.”

And despite missing a full pre-season, Holmes felt like he’d never been away from the playing group:

“Our turnover in players hasn’t been too big so a lot of the combinations are still there. The game last weekend against Swinton; there were probably only about three players I hadn’t played with before. 

“Players are always playing with different players across Rugby League due to injuries and all sorts of reasons. It’s been an easy transition back.”

This week, the playmaker's focus is firmly on Bradford’s AB Sundecks 1895 Cup Semi-Final, where they will welcome Wakefield Trinity to Bartercard Odsal Stadium.

Both clubs have rich history where Wembley and Challenge Cup Finals are concerned. Bradford have won the Challenge Cup a total of five times, but only one of those victories occurred at Wembley, dating back to 1948.

Similarly, Wakefield's last outing at Wembley came 45 years ago in 1979.

With all to play for on Sunday, Holmes recognises the magnitude of the game and is confident the Bulls can deliver on their home patch:

“I still think we’re in a really good spot. Across the Championship there’s been injuries all over and we’ve struggled quite a lot over the past few months. But we’re finally starting to get some players back and this really shows when we’re on and we beat a really good Swinton side.

“That puts us in really good stead for this week.

"We’re going to give it a real good crack on Sunday and it’s a big occasion. I’m sure they’ll be a lot of fans coming down. These are the games we want to play in and to be the best you’ve got play the best and beat the best.”

On a potential Wembley outing, the Bradford number 1 is relishing the thought and insisted he will be giving everything he's got to try and to get there:

“It would be a bit of a story for me to be able to get the chance to play at Wembley and on Sunday I’m going to give it my best shot.

“We’re all excited for it. These games don’t come around often, so we can’t be going into the game nervous. The outsiders might be looking at us as underdogs, but we don’t see that – we see ourselves as challengers this year.

“We’ve had some tough results, but it’s early on in the season.

“We’re just excited. We know what we can do as a club and as a team, so we’re going to give it our all.”

Holmes is yet to play on the big stage himself, although he did help Featherstone in their journey to reaching the 1895 Cup Final in 2021.




He played an integral role in their semi-final where the Rovers beat Widnes 24-18, but would go on to agonisingly miss out on selection, and did not feature in the final which Fev went on to win.

“Everyone’s had different stories with Wembley – we’ve had some players play in the finals years ago, and some that never have.

“Everyone wants to play at Wembley. One of my stories was with Featherstone when they got to 1895 Cup Final and a couple of us didn’t get to play.

“But it’s a driving force for us, and we’re looking forward to playing a game like this.”

When asked what a trip to Wembley would mean for Holmes and the Bradford side, Holmes replied:

“It’s hard to put into words. Stepping foot out at the final and on that Wembley turf – that’s the reason you play the game to be involved in them sort of games.

“If you’re not playing for that reason, you’re probably playing the wrong sport.

“It would be a proud moment for me and my family if we get the opportunity and I’m going to give it my best shot to make sure we get the chance to do that.

“These chances don’t come round often, and I don’t want to look back in ten years and look back on that I never got the chance.”

“My brother used to play in the Schools Finals at Wembley when I was younger, so I used to go to there every year. I’ve been a big supporter of rugby all my life. I know what it’s like to watch the final and the buzz of the crowd but to play in one and get the chance, is something I’ve always wanted to do.”

A winning Wakefield Trinity side currently stand in Bradford's way, who will be just as equally determined have their chance to reach the desired Wembley stage.

The sides last met in Round 1 of the Championship competition, where Trinity emerged 42-12 victors at the DIY Kitchens Stadium. A lot has changed since then for the Bradford outfit, but Holmes knows it will be a tough challenge in Sunday’s hotly-anticipated semi-final, given what's at stake.

That being said, he has full belief in his side to get the job done on Sunday:

“We’ve developed as a team over the past few weeks. It doesn’t seem that long ago since we played Wakefield and we weren’t great that day, but I think we’re a better team now and we’ve learnt, not just from their game, but from recent games and our wins.




“We’re looking for a good, clean performance and I reckon we will have a great chance.

“We feel like we’re at a stage where we’re on the up, so that’s a real bonus for us going into this week.”

With a long way to go until the end of the 2024 season, Holmes is aiming high for both himself and the club, and is optimistic about what the future holds:

“For me it’s getting back playing – I had a good year last year and played some good rugby, so I want to personally push myself again and showcase myself.

“I want to help the team as much as possible and push myself to be one of the best players in the competition. I’ve got the drive to do that - I’ve overcome adversity, and we could put a positive turn on it.

“Bradford finishing in third was massive last year, but we want to go even better this year and finish higher and compete for top spot – why not? We know deep down we’re a good enough team and we’ve got to keep striving for the best."

The half-back is also hopeful of being able to reward the loyal Bradford fanbase with a long-awaited Wembley trip:

“Bradford has a rich history and the fans are very passionate week on week and they’ve probably got the supports in the league home and away.

“I’ve only been at Bradford two years now, but I can tell how passionate the fans are. Other fans look in and say they haven’t had success in a long time, so how good would it be to give a bit back to the fans for them to be able to watch their team at Wembley?”


A full AB Sundecks 1895 Cup Semi-Final Preview can be found here.


Tickets for Bradford v Wakefield's AB Sundecks 1895 Cup Semi-Final are still available to purchase here.