Fletcher: I want Burke to continue

NEWCASTLE are ready to offer injured World Cup winning full-back Matt Burke a new contract, it was revealed last night.

NEWCASTLE are ready to offer injured World Cup winning full-back Matt Burke a new contract, it was revealed last night.

Falcons director of rugby John Fletcher has opened negotiations with Burke about extending his stay at Kingston Park despite the Aussie star being out for the rest of the season after rupturing knee ligaments.

Burke’s contract is up at the end of May, but The Journal understands rather than thinking about retirement, he is keen to make a comeback with Newcastle – and the Falcons are more than happy to keep him on.

“We have held a number of meetings with Matt in the past fortnight to decide what is the best way ahead for both parties,” said Fletcher. “There is a massive determination on our part to retain his services.

“Before his injury, Matt was playing some of the best rugby of his career and even after what was a devastating blow, he has remained an extremely positive presence around the team.

“He is a player who still falls firmly into the world class bracket and clearly when there is the opportunity to keep such a talent at the club we are keen to make it happen.

“There is nothing concrete in place yet for next season, but what we have seen during our initial meetings with Matt is a commitment from him to look seriously at the option of staying for another season.”

Burke will fly home to Australia to have his knee reconstructed by the surgeon of his choice and will then return to Newcastle to complete his rehabilitation.

There is an slim chance he could play again at the end of the season, but it is far more likely he will spend the summer getting back to full fitness.

“Matt is a truly outstanding individual, a sporting icon in Newcastle and remains very much part of this club, even during his spell on the sidelines,” said Fletcher.

“Our talks continue to progress well. He may be 34 but he has the body of someone more like 24 and he is simply a class act.”

Burke joined the Falcons in the summer of 2004 and has scored 430 points in his 81 competitive games so far, including 26 tries.

Capped 81 times by Australia, the 1999 World Cup winner remains the second-highest points scorer in Aussie Test history.

Meanwhile, the Falcons welcome back England centre Jamie Noon and skipper Phil Dowson for Saturday’s European Challenge Cup trip to Spanish side Cetransa El Salvador at Estadio Pepe Rojo.

The Falcons travel to Valladolid to take on the Spanish champions buoyed by the return of Dowson and Noon as well as flanker Ben Woods, who came on late in the game against Newport after several weeks out with a hand injury.

Newcastle show nine changes from the team which beat Newport Gwent Dragons in last Saturday’s EDF Energy Cup clash.

It promises to be a big day for the Tait family as brothers Mathew and Alex start together in Falcons colours for the first time.

England Under-19 star Alex comes in for the rested Tom May at full-back while World Cup star Mathew continues his club comeback at outside centre.

Noon returns after knee ligament damage with Steve Jones shifting one place to fly-half as Toby Flood recovers from an operation for a minor tear to his scrotum suffered last weekend against the Dragons.

Dutchman Tim Visser comes in for John Rudd on the left wing and at James Grindal takes the place of Lee Dickson scrum-half.

A completely new front row sees Jon Golding, Andy Long and Micky Ward take over from Joe McDonnell, Matt Thompson and David Wilson.

In the back row, Dowson starts in place of the rested Russell Winter while Geoff Parling also takes a breather as Woods starts at openside and Brent Wilson switches to blindside flanker.

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