Some of the best bull riders in Australia are headed to Newcastle this weekend for the Great Northern Newcastle Invitational.
Cody Heffernan, 2016 Australian Champion and #4 on the PBR Australia rankings from Singleton will be taking on fellow Hunter Valley riders including Cliff Richardson.
28-year-old Cody was thrown on his first calf at just four years of age.
He might have fallen off after just two seconds but he hasn’t stopped since.
“I’m really craving those big situations where you’ve got a really good bull drawn and you’ve got to ride this bull to win the event and that’s kind of what I live for, those big moments like that drawing those bulls that nobody else can ride,”
“That’s what I want. I want to put my name on that bull first and be the first to ride him and then go win a title.”
Growing up he was in good company and these days, like at this weekends PBR event he is often up against some of the best he grew up with.
“Growing up we had such a good group of riders that it was hard to get a place when you were in the steer riding and that has carried and now you’re seeing a lot of the guys from the Hunter Valley, Tamworth and the New England area that have gone on to be Australian champions and are currently in the top 50 in the world including the Richardson brothers, Troy Wilkinson,”
“I could name quite a few that I actually grew up riding with.”
Cody also made the Australian team for the PBR Global Cup this year alongside Gresford brothers Cliff and Lachlan Richardson.
He recently competed in two rodeos in Queensland, one in Mareeba and another in Charters Towers where he rode away with a win at both.
“I think I’m running second for that title now. that’s another goal of mine this year to win two titles in the one year, the PBR and the Rodeo Association,” said Cody.
The bull that has gotten the better of bull riders this year is ‘Take the Gamble’.
“The very toughest bull going right now is a bull called ‘Take the Gamble’. He’s from the Northern Territory and no one has made the eight seconds on him including myself back in Isa in 2016,”
“He near killed me actually, I was that close from getting my teeth caved in and he almost landed on me too so I think I went three seconds.”
“I have a lot of close calls and I walk away and nothing is hurt thankfully and touch wood I never have to face a career ending injury but there’s been a lot of injuries throughout the years that now they are piling up and it’s a little bit harder to get out of bed, I feel a bit sore.”
Cody said that the sport is progressing to a point “where the guys are looking after themselves a lot more than what we did say 10 years ago when I first came into the PBR. Our fitness programs are a lot better and our recovery times are a lot quicker”.
After this weekend Cody’s next local event will be at the Singleton Show in September.
This weekend will also see the debut of the PBR Bullzye Protection Team that includes a couple of Hunter cowboys.
Mitch Russell from Melville near Aberglasslyn and Geoff Hall from Aberdeen have both been chosen to be a part of the protection team in the PBR for the next 12 months.
Mitch and Geoff have been friends for some time now, and their role is known as the protection athlete, an often overlooked role, who once the bull rider is bucked off their bull spring into action defending the rider by any means necessary.
This might mean distracting the bull and making themselves a target or laying across the rider to take the impact of the bull’s horns or hooves. They will also often tag-team with their fellow protection athletes to separate the bull and rider in a swift and safe way. That is what Mitch said is so much fun.
"We don't really class it as a job, it's more of a glorified hobby but we get paid for it so I guess its a job but I'd nearly do it for nothing it's that much fun," he said.
Image credit: Grant Broadcasters/Jessica Rouse