Newcastle Falcons aim for Super League with Gateshead Thunder

Top-flight ambitions won't be rushed as Newcastle Falcons take control of Gateshead Thunder, uniting rugby's two codes

Stanley Gene of Gateshead Thunder and Newcastle Falcons’ Dean Richards after it was announced the clubs are joining forces
Stanley Gene of Gateshead Thunder and Newcastle Falcons’ Dean Richards after it was announced the clubs are joining forces

Gateshead Thunder chairman Bill Midgley has described the club’s takeover by Newcastle Falcons as “the biggest day in our history” as they plot a path back into the top tier of rugby league.

The move was first revealed in The Journal two and a half months ago, the formalities completed yesterday at a launch in which Gateshead set out their Super League ambitions.

Currently in the bottom half of Championship One, two leagues below the elite level, funds have immediately been made available for Thunder to add up to five new signings to clinch promotion via the play-offs this season.

No timescale is being put on Gateshead’s intended ascension back into the sport’s big-time, their one and only Super League flirtation in 1999 seeing them moved to Hull after only a single season.

“There are no silly promises about when Super League will happen,” said Midgley. “That would be wrong, and if we said two years’ time I know the fools would be going ‘why didn’t it happen?’

“Super League is on the map, hopefully in the not too distant future, but let’s do it season by season and league by league.” Newcastle Falcons’ commercial consultant Mick Hogan, a former chief executive of Super League champions Wigan Warriors, added: “It is worth noting that had the Rugby Football League not introduced promotion and relegation at all levels, it is fair to say Newcastle Rugby Ltd would not have progressed with its plans and we would not be here today.

“There is a very clear vision and path for Gateshead Thunder to get all the way through to Super League, but what we are not going to do is sit here and say it will definitely happen. We are not saying it is going to happen by ‘X’ date. It is an aim, but it will happen only if the club is good enough on and off the field.

“It will have grown over a number of years and will have rightly taken its place in the top division of rugby league, rather than what happened 15 years ago when the club was implanted in the top level and left to sink or swim. We all know what happened there.”

Hogan confirmed Gateshead Thunder will retain their current name, colours and crest, and that they will finish the season at their Gateshead International Stadium home with head coach Stanley Gene remaining in charge.

Beyond next season the waters are less clear on a home, Newcastle Falcons’ Kingston Park stadium the logical destination despite only three years remaining on their lease from Northumbria University.

The Falcons have already lodged a planning application for a plastic pitch which would make year-round rugby a possibility, and The Journal understands positive news can be expected next week with regards to its installation.

Insisting there are no plans for crossover between Thunder and the Premiership rugby union side, Hogan said: “For Newcastle Falcons it will not mean a great deal of difference for our director of rugby Dean Richards and his team, but what it does mean is we have another sport within the organisation which complements rugby union. There is no planned intention to swap players between the two. They play at different levels and in different seasons, and it should be recognised that they actually play different sports, although similar.

“It does mean we can share resources, such as access to suppliers so both clubs can benefit from buying in bigger volumes. That could be anything from coach companies to stewarding providers, and there are support systems in place which will assist the club.

“One or two members of staff, mainly off-field rather than coaching, may have an element of cross-over, but on the field the two teams will remain separate. The next few months are about giving Thunder an instant boost, and we have already identified up to five players we are going to bring in with immediate effect to strengthen Stanley Gene’s squad and go for promotion this year into the Championship.”

Insisting lessons had been learnt from Gateshead’s 1999 Super League dalliance, he added: “Last time it was a bold move and a gamble which ultimately didn’t pay off. It needed a bit more time and a bit more money, but you could definitely see from it that there is an appetite for top-class rugby league in the North East.

“Thunder averaged something around the 4,000 mark which, although not startling, was more than Newcastle Falcons were getting despite having won the Premiership rugby union title 18 monthsearlier.

“If it is done right and managed properly the club can grow, but if it is ever to take its place in Super League that will be down to success on and off the field.

“For me sport is all about how good you are on the field. All the sponsorship, ticket sales and corporate things we are doing at the Falcons are aimed at giving Dean the biggest pot we can to build the squad and coaching team.

“Sport should never be about who can fill in an application form the best, or looking at a map and seeing where we have got a gap. If we get there we will have earned the right.”

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