GATESHEAD Thunder got their pre-season preparations off to a losing start but showed huge signs of potential as the rugby league calendar clicked into gear.
Leading at half-time but ultimately beaten by a Hull Kingston Rovers outfit dominated by youngsters, the visitors did include a smattering of their Super League squad as Newcastle Falcons’ Kingston Park entertained an away following both vocal and thirsty in equal measure.
A much-changed Thunder included five former Robins in their match-day 20, with Nick Johnson, Jacob Blades, Curtis Pullen, Loyd Ofori and Rowan Colquhoun all drafted in as part of Kevin Neighbour’s newly-assembled squad.
A commendable start saw the Thunder keeping pace with their visitors, but with 17 minutes elapsed their defence was finally breached when George Griffin broke a tackle down the right and powered over for the opener.
Gateshead were still giving as good as they were getting and in ex-Super League winger Johnson they finally have the experienced head out wide they lacked for so long.
His mixture of ball-and-all tackling and defensive organisation was a feature throughout, and he got himself on the score-sheet when a ricochet off the cross-bar caused the confusion from which the ball was worked right.
The boot of Gavin Beasley, on the ground where he was once a Premiership rugby union player, pinned Rovers back on a succession of occasions and they assumed a well-deserved 8-6 half-time lead when Jacob Blades sped in at the left corner on a hard, straightening line.
Drawing long-lasting conclusions from pre-season friendlies is a dangerous occupation at the best of times, but the basics from Gateshead were a world above what they have shown in recent seasons.
Even when a defensive fumble allowed Keal Carlisle to snatch a two-point lead their heads did not drop, an abysmal conversion attempt keeping the deficit to two as the extras were missed from in front.
Sonny Esselmont raced down the left wing for a breakaway try to extend that by six, Matty Marsh jinked his way over for the fourth – but a 16-point margin by the time of the final whistle ensured respectability was well and truly maintained.