Garry Schofield gives his reaction to Newcastle’s successful bid for promotion to the Championship
So it’s a thumbs-up for Thunder, with Newcastle getting the nod to play in the Championship next season.
And the storm clouds really will be gathering for those making the big decision on who takes Toronto’s place in Super League if, as many are suggesting, it’s Bradford.
I’m not surprised about the Newcastle verdict, and I wish the club all the best, but I also feel disappointed for Barrow, who would have been my choice.
There’s been a lot of talk about potential, and it undoubtedly exists up on Tyneside, but it’s also there in abundance in Cumbria, with Workington also among the five League 1 clubs who applied to step up and join Whitehaven in the second tier.
Newcastle is a terrific city, full of friendly and welcoming people, and I’m glad it’s got Magic Weekend and the opening match of the World Cup, and hopefully both can beat the pandemic and go ahead as scheduled, although let’s not take anything for granted just yet.
I’m pretty sure there will be some locals at Magic, and even more for England versus Samoa, because both are big one-off occasions when some of our game’s top stars will be on show at a super stadium in St James’ Park.
But when it comes to attending week in, week out at Kingston Park, which is a nice ground but far more awkward to get to than St James’, which takes up such a central position in the city centre, it’s a different matter.
Newcastle is a tough city for Rugby League to crack, because football is so entrenched there, and rugby union has also been around for a long time.
Newcastle Falcons are back in the Premiership, so that’s direct competition as Thunder try to draw punters to Kingston Park.
In putting this column together, I had a look at various attendance figures, and the last time the Falcons were in the top flight in 2018-19, they averaged around 9,000, which shows the grip union already has.
In contrast, albeit in League 1, Thunder’s figure dropped from just over 1,000 in 2018 to less than 900 in 2019.
The history books tell us there have been two previous clubs on Tyneside, the first, South Shields, in the early 20th Century, the second, Newcastle, in the 1930s, and both struggled for support at a time when there were far fewer forms of entertainment available.
And, of course, Thunder’s roots are in Gateshead, just across the river from Newcastle, where attempts to establish a Super League club in 1999 lasted just one season.
A different era, perhaps, but another example of the battle the current Thunder face in realising their stated ambition of winning Super League within ten years.
I’ve also heard a lot about the Academy and community foundation, and the growth of the amateur game in the North-East, yet for me, a big mistake was made a few years ago in letting go of Lee Crooks, who had been doing a great job as development officer in the region.
Other than a big population, which hasn’t really shown that much interest in our game, I don’t see too many areas in which Newcastle betters Barrow, where the amateur set-up is strong, there is a long history of the sport being played at professional level and the club has established itself within the community, particularly during the pandemic.
For whatever reason, Cumbria, with such a rich Rugby League heritage, has been left to wither while far more effort seems to have been put into attempts at expansion, which never seemed very likely to succeed.
The panel that ruled on the applications of Newcastle, Barrow, Doncaster, Rochdale and Workington referred to the main ‘determining criteria’ as enhancing the commercial value of the competition, delivering value to other members, being competitive on the pitch, being sustainable and contributing to achieving the sport’s ‘broader goals’.
I won’t devote too much space to the eagerly awaited announcement on the 12th Super League club for 2021 because it will be a major topic for discussion next week, by which time we’ll know the outcome.
I’ve no beef with the Bulls’ fans, who have shown incredibly loyalty and are innocent victims of the club’s well-documented slide, but even some of them are saying there are other more deserving candidates
If it is Bradford who are chosen, given the criteria already outlined, it’s going to take a very good spin doctor to convince the wider public that it is justifiable.
Good to see Giants snap up Joe
I’ve always liked Joe Greenwood as a player, so I was pleased to see Ian Watson flex some of the financial muscle provided by Ken Davy to bring him to Huddersfield on a two-year contract.
These are encouraging times for the claret and gold faithful, with Australian halfback Jack Cogger also coming over from Canterbury-Bankstown, and I think we’ll all be interested to see how things develop at the Giants.
Greenwood looked a cracking forward when he was at St Helens, and certainly deserved his chance in the NRL with Gold Coast.
He came back to Wigan and helped them win the Grand Final in 2018, but since then he seems to have been treading water.
When he went on loan to Leeds earlier this year, I really wanted him to show his talent and earn a permanent deal, but the move was scuppered by the pandemic.
The return of John Bateman meant he was down the pecking order at Wigan, so moving to the John Smith’s provides a great opportunity to work under an excellent coach.
Joe has the ability to be one of the best second rows in Super League, and hopefully he will get firmly back on track.
Two sad losses
We’ve lost a couple of the game’s great characters in Geoff Pryce and Ged Stokes, both taken far too soon.
Geoff, from such a renowned Rugby League family, was a top bloke who was great company off the pitch and a real competitor on it for York.
He was a really powerful winger who never took a backward step, but he was also a fair player who was well respected by opponents.
And it wasn’t just his tries, but the way he played the game with a smile on his face, and his approachability off the pitch, which made him such a fans’ favourite at York.
Ged was a teak-tough Kiwi who was a good enough prop to make the New Zealand team before turning to coaching.
He was a bit of a throwback in that he enjoyed a pint or two, and he could be fairly feisty, but he was also fair-minded.
The fact that he was so well liked by fans of rival clubs Workington and Whitehaven, both of whom he coached, is a mark of the man.
Plans for my golf day in aid of Rob Burrow and the fight against MND are well under way, and I’d like to appeal to clubs, their sponsors and any businesses or individuals to donate prizes for auction.
There are also a few team places left for the event at Normanton Golf Club on Monday, May 17.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for further details or if you have any questions.
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