MICKY Ward and Chris Pilgrim are the first out-of-contract Newcastle Falcons to sign new deals for next season.
Geordie Falcons stalwart Ward has signed a one-year deal that will take him into his 12th Kingston Park season, while former Nottingham scrum-half Pilgrim has been awarded a two-year contract after an impressive first season in the North East.
While the two Falcons are the first to finalise new deals, Falcons boss Steve Bates revealed he expects more contracts to be completed without much further delay.
The most high-profile man whose contract is up for renewal is, of course, All Black powerhouse and Falcons club captain Carl Hayman, but the tighthead prop is still a week or two away from making a final decision about his future.
Should Hayman decide to stick on at Kingston Park and not return to New Zealand for the 2011 World Cup assault, or even take a big-money offer from several suitors in France, then the Falcons will, of course, apportion a decent slice of their budget in order to hold on to their talisman.
To that end rugby director Bates can not pursue outside targets too vigorously until all the current players have made their calls about next term first, as he has already stated.
But that process is now under way, and Bates is hopeful the first two new contract signings will spell the start of a series of completed deals.
Celebrating the double capture, Bates said Ward’s lengthy top-level experience marks him out as an important squad man at Kingston Park – for next season just as well as now.
“Everyone knows what a great club man Micky Ward is,” Bates enthused, “and it is fantastic news for that he has signed on for another year with us. He brings vast Guinness Premiership experience to the table, he remains a strong scrummager and his attitude behind the scenes is an example to all aspiring players.”
Hailing the contribution of quickly-improving Pilgrim, Bates said he hopes next term’s squad can start to take shape now.
“Chris has impressed us greatly since arriving on trial last summer,” Bates explained. “He is a tough competitor and a quick learner who has adapted well to Guinness Premiership rugby.
“Both players have backed the ambition being shown by the club in pledging their futures here. We are in talks with others regarding recruitment and retention and the squad is gradually starting to shape up well for next season.”
While 31-year-old Ward can boast more than 250 club appearances in his 11 years at the club, 24-year-old Pilgrim has just eight club showings to his name so far.
The combative scrum-half took up the challenge of proving himself over a lengthy trial at the club after impressing in the Championship.
And having already secured a deal to keep him at Newcastle until the end of this term, he has now ratified a further two-year contract, underlining his growing reputation and standing within the squad.