Gareth Walker hears the impressive noises coming out of the north east
Denis Betts had the smile of a man who knew what question was coming next.
It was moments after Newcastle Chairman Mick Hogan had broached the club’s 2019 aim to win Super League by 2030 at Thunder’s season preview media event over Zoom.
Is such a bold target exciting or daunting for a director of rugby?
“It’s exciting,” Betts responded.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. If you ask me what my goal is and I say to survive in the Championship, people say you’ve got no ambition.
“If I say we’re going to win the Championship, you say ‘You’re a bit above yourself’.
“You have to aim high. Why are you a professional club and what do you want to achieve?
“We want to be in Super League and if you’re in Super League, you want to win it.
“All we’ve done is given ourselves a timescale to work hard, and I’d like to think we could achieve it before that, that’s what my goal is.
“If we can get into Super League in the next couple of years, assemble a side and develop some youngsters that go into the group, what’s to say we can’t do it before then?
“It’s not the end point, and not succeeding by 2030 won’t be the end point either; we’ll dust ourselves down, re-assess and have some other goals and aspirations.
“We can’t say that it’s not doable, but we also recognise that it’s a very tough ask.”
Betts and Thunder coach Eamon O’Carroll have certainly assembled an impressive squad for life back in the Championship after they won the off-field race to earn promotion at the end of last year, effectively taking Leigh’s place in the competition.
Ukuma Ta’ai heads a list of Super League recruits that includes halfbacks Jake Shorrocks, Josh Woods and Connor Bailey, and Betts is excited by the team that has been put together.
“We looked at what we needed to compete in the Championship and not make the numbers up, and we wanted lads with ambition who would turn up every week,” Betts explained.
“It’s a big ask and a long way to come for lads here; you have to drive past every club in the country to get to Newcastle.
“But we sold them an understanding of how determined we are, the facilities we have at the club and what we’re aiming for.
“Connor Bailey is going to be a Super League player for a long time, Jake Shorrocks is a Super League player and Josh Woods could go on and play for England. He’s got the kind of ability that Luke Gale had when he had to move to find a game.
“Lads like Mikey Wood and Evan Hodgson have lots of desire and determination.”
Betts himself has been re-energised by his move north after leaving Widnes in May 2018 following eight years at the Vikings.
The highly rated O’Carroll will take charge of team affairs as Thunder look to make an impact in the notoriously unforgiving Championship, but Betts has clearly been galvanised by the club’s ambition.
“When I first went up to Newcastle I felt that there was something special there,” he added.
“There’s an enthusiasm about the place and a passion that maybe got washed out of me over the last couple of years towards the end of my coaching with Widnes.
“It’s been reinstated and I’ve been reinvigorated by the desire to be successful in this area.
“We’re not an expansion club, we’re a developing club.
“We’re not just dropping the game in here, it’s been in the area for a long time, well before Gateshead Thunder, and there will be Rugby League teams here for a long time to come.”
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.