Newcastle setting a lead for others to follow

Upfront: The League Express opinion – Mon 30th Aug 2021

Newcastle will be the centre of attention this weekend – and hopefully the six Super League round 23 matches can produce some Magic dust to sprinkle over Rugby League.

There’s no denying the sport needs a pretty major pick-me-up, and not just because of the knock-on effects of the pandemic.

There were problems before Covid came along, and as plenty of people have pointed out, it’s crucial that solutions are found by those running the show.

Last week this column extolled the virtues of Batley Bulldogs, a founder member of the league who continue to thrive in a challenging environment.

Another couple of Championship clubs well worth taking notice of are Newcastle Thunder and York City Knights, who meet at Kingston Park on Friday evening.

It’s a Magic Weekend curtain-raiser, which the ambitious and progressive North-East club hope will attract a new ground record for a Rugby League match.

The current highest gate is 4,137 for the visit of Bradford Bulls in May 2018, the last time the Super League roadshow came to St James’ Park.

Thunder were operating in League 1 at that time, but were elevated to the Championship in December to take the place of Super League-bound Leigh Centurions.

They were chosen ahead of Barrow Raiders, Doncaster, Rochdale Hornets and Workington Town after a bidding process.

Just as at York, who were promoted in 2018 and recently moved into a new stadium, there is plenty of potential for Newcastle to grow further.

They have a healthy partnership with top-flight rugby union club Newcastle Falcons, who also play at Kingston Park.

There is a flourishing grass-roots scene in the area, which the club have helped develop and are committed to expanding further.

And, despite having far less time than any other club to build a squad capable of operating in the division, they have given a decent account of themselves.

Sunday’s 43-22 win at Dewsbury was the sixth of the season for Eamon O’Carroll’s side, who have also drawn one, and went a long way to ensuring their safety.

O’Carroll is a bright young coach who has the experience of director of rugby Denis Betts to call on, and it’s going to be interesting to see how Thunder progress.

Their stated aim is to reach Super League – and be in a condition to stay there – and they seem to be putting firm foundations in place.

Having the opening now-2022 World Cup match in the city, which was confirmed last week, will provide Thunder with another peg to hang their promotional activity from.

And it would be remiss not to mention the impressively quick progress made by tournament chief executive Jon Dutton and his team since the 2021 event was postponed.

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