PHIL Bradford thought he buried his front-rower's boots six years ago.
Bradford packed down at loosehead prop for the Australian Schoolboys against their New Zealand counterparts across the Tasman in 2013.
Since then, he has worn the No.2 on his back during stints at Wanderers, NSW Academy, West Harbour, Maitland and most recently in Spain for Seville.
But with the Hunter Wildfires heavy on quality hookers and light at loosehead, the 23-year-old stuck his hand up to help out and has played off the bench in the opening two losses to Randwick and Eastwood.
"At the end of the day, it is whatever is good for the team," Bradford said ahead of Saturday's visit by Sydney University. "The last time I played loosehead was at school. I thought I had buried those boots. I had to pull them back out. They are certainly bigger bodies in the Shute Shield."
Starting prop Dave Puchert is only 22 and although the Port Macquarie product has aimed up, Wildfires coach Scott Coleman admits the scenario is not ideal.
"We are short on depth at loosehead," Coleman said. "It isn't Phil's preferred position but he took it on for the team. He has competed hard and had a crack at everything. What Phil gives me around the park is phenomenal. He is a real worker and does a lot of good things ... he's a natural footballer."
Bradford tips the scales at 110 kilograms and is giving away at least 20 kilograms to most tightheads.
"With my weight compared to the others, it comes down to technique," Bradford said.
Former Wanderers and West Harbour teammate Andrew Tuala has been providing assistance. Tuala, who switches between hooker and prop, is in the NSW Waratahs squad and has been recording scrum sessions and sending them to Bradford.
"I have been getting my info off AT," Bradford said. "He has been scrummaging at the Waratahs at loosehead. He points out little things and I try soak as much info as I can from him. Each week is a new week. I try and keep tweaking it."
Captain Chris Ale has started at hooker in both games, with Steve Lamont back-up.
"I haven't stopped doing my training at hooker," Bradford said. "I keep smashing that out of the way, while still learning loosehead. I'm trying to balance the focus."
Bradford's stint in Spain was cut short by COVID-19. Saville were in their first season in the top division and Bradford said their were many similarities with the situation at the Wildfires.
"It was a new bunch of boys and it took a while for us to gel," he said. "When we did, we started to perform well and then the season stopped."
"It was a great experience. It is a club competition but teams are from all over Spain. There were a lot of train rides and plane trips.
"There were nine foreigners in our side. Myself and a prop from West Harbour, Sione Mafi, and seven Kiwis.
"Physicality wise it would have been up there with Shute Shield. But they are still developing their rugby so the speed of the game was probably second grade."
The Wildfires, although losing by similar scrorelines, showed vast improvement from the 50-7 loss to Randwick to the 46-11 defeat to Eastwood.
They will need to step up against the premiers, who have opened their campaign with wins over Warringah () and Manly (10-6).
"We just have stick at it for longer periods," Bradford said. "You can't get away with switching off like you can in Newcastle. We have to have the mindset that we are going 80 or 90 minutes."
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