Jimmy Gopperth believes Newcastle Falcons are set fair for a bright future – even though he won’t be part of it.
After four years at Kingston Park the prolific Kiwi will next season line up for Irish province Leinster, but his enthusiasm for the North East remains undiminished after firing them back into the Aviva Premiership.
The fly-half said: “For me to leave on this note is pretty satisfying personally, and there are a lot of memories.
“The club is on much firmer foundations now and their task is not only to stay in the Premiership, but doing something now they have got there.”
Paying tribute to the fans who retain fond memories of their talisman despite him jumping ship just a third of the way through his three-year deal, Gopperth said: “The club have been backed by the fantastic support of the North East public, and when we saw the crowds for the Championship final and semi-final you can see how much it meant to them.
“We get overshadowed a bit up here by the football, which is just the way it is, and that’s fine. But in behind that there are a lot of people in the region who absolutely love their rugby.
“The kids are into it in a big way, and they absolutely thrive on coming to watch the Falcons. It was important to get Premiership rugby back for those guys, more than anything else.”
Rather than banking on a big name to fill Gopperth’s boots the Falcons have shared the load, bringing Harlequins’ Rory Clegg and London Scottish veteran Phil Godman back.
Homegrown prospect Joel Hodgson also remains on board, looking to build on a campaign in which they had to win the league twice over thanks to a convoluted season structure.
Gopperth said: “Our number-one task was fulfilled, and that brought great relief. The Championship make it as hard as possible to get out of it, but right from the very first pre-season game you could see the boys sticking together all the way through to the very end against Bedford.
“It was a credit to the guys that they were able to do that, and I am just proud to have been part of the group that got Newcastle Falcons back where they belong – in the Premiership.
“Promotion was always going to be the thing, and when I re-signed last summer that is what it was all about.
“Dean Richards had said right from the start of the season that he wasn’t bothered how many games we won or lost, as long as we won the final.
“To the boys’ credit we took control in those last two games against Bedford. It might not have been pretty at times, but we did enough and the club is now back in the top flight.”
Beaten just three times in their 34 competive games, he reflected: “It was such a long season, and when we can look back now I think the defeats to Bristol, Leeds and Leinster served as blessings in disguise.
“We had taken our foot off the throat, but we knew from the day we turned up we were capable of doing it.”
Leaving on a high, he added: “I thought I could help contribute to getting the boys back up there, and I am just so proud of them. I have made such good friends here, and had an amazing time. Newcastle will always be special to me, and I am sure I will be back one day to see the boys.”
Meanwhile, Falcons have signed England Under-20s’ World Cup-winning lock Dom Barrow, from Leeds Carnegie. The 6ft 8 forward has signed a two-year deal, and said: “I am very much looking forward to the challenge of playing for a club that has rich potential.
“One of the main attractions is the fact that there is a world-class coaching set-up in place, which can only help my development as a player.”