Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Sunday's Coming - Gates… er… Newcastle

Good news: Gateshead's move over the river has taken professional rugby league to  Newcastle for the first time since 1938. Bad news: Thunder were taken over by Newcastle Rugby Limited, the holding company that owns  *nion side Newcastle Falcons.

The news came with a slight sense of deja-vu - the original Thunder sacrificing its identity in the deal that kept GatesHull FC in Super League in 1999 (Gateshead Thunder took over the Hull FC's identity in Super League and moved home games to The Boulevard. Most of the Gateshead playing squad moved to Hull FC along with their board and coach Shaun McRae).

Now effectively an adjunct to a *nion club, shipped over the river to Kingston Park (with its plastic 3G pitch) and with a squad liberally laden with Hull KR dual reg players, there's not a great deal of the old Gateshead DNA left in the Newcastle ThunderFalcons (or, as we shall call them NTF™).
The Falcon shows off his falcon. In Newcastle.

At the time of the takeover, Thunder's  Managing Director Keith Christie told BBC Sport. "It was a commonsense step. We're keen to make sure we don't forget our birthplace in Gateshead, but we have to ensure we move forward and unfortunately that means changing the name." And the shirt and the badge and the ground and the city they play in. But apart from that…

Speaking on the Newcastle Falcons website last year, Newcastle Rugby Ltd chairman Semore Kurdi said of the takeover: “I’m delighted that Gateshead Thunder has become part of Newcastle Rugby Ltd. There are a number of benefits to having both league and union Clubs within the same organisation. Resources can be shared off the field in terms of administration, marketing, medical, sports science and facilities that will be to the advantage of both clubs."

"With rugby league now re-introducing promotion and relegation between the various levels there is a clear path through to Super League. To reach Super League will be our long term goal. There is now a target date for this goal. Resources have been made available straight away to strengthen the current squad… our aim being promotion to the next tier"

Indeed, his *nion club also seemed quite keen to experience life at a different tier, currently sitting next to bottom of the Premiership with just four wins from 19 games. Ironic that they stand to be reprieved by the abolition of relegation.

And, just in case you were in any doubt about who wears the pants in this relationship, you could email Thunder's  MD on

Why-aye: Stanley Gene suspects the
new logo might not fly...
On the field, NTF™ are coached by the redoubtable Stanley Gene (who is somewhere between the ages of 36 and 70 depending on which article you read) and he's been resourced to make the ThunderFalcons a success in the Toon.

In order to give his *nion paymasters the best bet of a quick return, newly cashed-up Gene has gone back to what he knows, hooking up a triumverate of top quality Kumul talent in centre Jason Tali (PNG Hunters), utility Charlie Wabo (Hela Wigmen/PNG) and prop Mark Mexico (Cronulla Sharks via PNG Hunters)

Also, in addition to NRL U20's Toyota Cup winner Jordan Meads (NZWarriors) and Ron Massey Cup Player of the Year Dayne Craig (Western Suburbs), Stan has also brought British prop Fran Welsh back from Young Cherrypickers in the CRL.

More entertainingly, NTF™ is the he latest stopping off point for agricultural Cumbrian prop Ryan McDonald.

But for all this, NTF™ still got spanked 36-16 at home to Keighley last week. In two wins from three games, NTF™ have racked up 74 points. However, while they clearly know where the line is, the 76 points they've conceded in the process suggests defensive issues.

Stanley Gene saw defeat as a good thing. Speaking in the 'Why-Aye Geordie News' this week he said: “It’s good because some of the boys are thinking they’re already there but it’s only the third game. It brings the boys back on the ground and we’ll start re-focusing for the Rochdale game.”

Conversely, Ian Talbot is a happier bloke after Hornets' cogs clicked together in last weekend's steam-rollering of Barrow.

Speaking on the Hornets website this week he said: "“There were some real good performances across the board. Mike Ratu was unplayable on that form and he’s way off being fit yet so I can’t wait to see a fit Mike Ratu because when he wants the ball a bit more he will cause havoc. Both the halfbacks and Crooky at nine have done exactly what I’ve asked them to do and took a grasp of that game."

"We are going to have to make that progression again and be even better again next week to beat Newcastle. They have had a good couple of wins, going to Crusaders and winning. We know that Stanley Gene will have them hyped up and ready to come down here, but we will give it our best shot."

Indeed, grabbing the game early will be key - with completion and confidence again the two critical factors. It's the game of the day in League One - don't miss it!