North America’s 2021 invasion not a concern for ambitious Newcastle Thunder

Whenever a full-time club enters a part-time league it is almost inevitable that the division will end decidedly lop-sided.

It occurred with Toulouse Olympique and it happened last in 2017 when Toronto Wolfpack started life in the British game in League 1.

With a team full of ex-Super League players on full-time contracts, the newcomers’ strength and experience was too powerful for most of the other teams in the league. York City Knights made history 16 games into a 22-game season when they finally halted the Wolfpack’s charge, while Keighley also claimed a draw against their transatlantic opponents.

But those setbacks didn’t stop the Wolfpack earning promotion at the first attempt and just two-years on Toronto are now planning for life in Super League.

In 2018 it was former Super League Champions and full-timers Bradford Bulls that were providing the toughest challenge, and while they had to earn promotion through the play-offs, their inclusion once again made for a tough season.

Last season was much more even and the race for the league title went down to the wire, and the play-offs for the second promotion spot couldn’t have been closer.

If it was hard enough for part-time clubs to challenge for honours with one big-spending outfit in their league, imagine what 2021 will be like with the inclusion of Ottowa and New York in League 1.

You would be forgiven then for thinking that any teams with Championship ambition would think that 2020 was the year they needed to win promotion before risking being pushed back into the shadows by the latest expansionist.

But for Newcastle Thunder coach Simon Finnigan, that’s not necessarily the case.

Thunder’s 2019 promotion challenge ended at the hands of Oldham in the closest of Grand Finals, and for Finnigan, it is what has happened in the past that is spurring on their new promotion push, rather than what might happen in the future.

“It was important for us as a club to get promotion last year, but we didn’t, so it will be just as important for us to do it this year,” said Finnigan, who was assistant coach of that inaugural Toronto team.

“We want to get up the leagues – we can’t hide away from that fact.

“The fact new teams are coming in in 2021 doesn’t change that. I will worry about the job we have now, not what might happen in the future.

“It would be difficult to go against Ottowa and New York, but it’s not necessarily impossible.

“From my own experience, I know that, whether you’re full-time or not, winning the league is still difficult. Ottowa and New York will be favourites but there is a lot of other stuff they need to get right and that needs to happen for that to fall into place on the field.

“It won’t be as easy as it looks and I’m confident that if we’re in the same league as them that year that we can aim up to challenge them.

“There is no denying that coming up against a full-time team in a part-time league is always a challenge, but they have to get their recruitment right and have other things in place off the field to be a genuine threat.”