A year after hanging up his boots, ex-England and Newcastle Falcons wing Michael Stephenson has a 14-month pre-season leading into his next game.
The 33-year-old scored 32 tries in 84 Premiership appearances during six seasons flying down the Falcons’ wing and will be among the greats lining up at Kingston Park on October 2 next year for a ‘Legends’ game.
Held on the eve of Newcastle’s Scotland v South Africa World Cup clash, the 33-year-old said: “I am really happy to be back at Kingston Park and it is a good excuse to get old pals back together. We have had a lot of interest so far and people have been keen to throw their hat in the ring and it should be a good event.
“Even for some of the lads who can’t actually play because of injuries it will still be nice for them to be in and around the game and for the supporters to spend time with them in the bars.
“There are quite a few players already committed to it and it is amazing how many people are making every effort possible to get here for the occasion and to raise some money for two great charities in the Wooden Spoon and the Falcons Community Foundation.”
Having retired from the professional game in 2012 after spells with Bath, Leeds and most recently as player-coach of Percy Park, the County Durham native still retains a foothold in the sporting world.
Stephenson added: “I work in sports medicine, selling implants for sports injuries. We do all arthroscopy equipment and generally just help put people back together.
“I am based in Durham but cover the whole of the North East, so it is good to be out there and working with so many different people.
“I feel fantastic – 100 times better than I did during my playing career!
“I can’t run for any longer than about 20 or 30 minutes these days on the old legs, but if I am going to be on the field then I want to be out there for as long as possible. There might be a few of the boys putting their hands up to be subbed when they are blowing after five minutes, but hopefully I won’t be one of those!”
Seeing the Legends match as an opportunity to renew links with the game, he added: “I was at Percy Park for the 2012-13 season and I have had a year without playing.
“My little boy is three now, so when he pulls on some boots I will probably get more involved again. The Wooden Spoon charity is the other thing which has kept me involved and I have a lot of connections in the game through that even though I am not actively playing. The good thing about rugby is when you retire you are still part of the family and even when I was playing the social side was still probably 70% of it.”
Looking back on a successful Falcons career, Stephenson said: “The highlights were the two cup final wins but really it is about the friends you make. I don’t keep in touch with many as much as I should, but events like this game are a great opportunity to try and put that right.”
Predicting better things for Newcastle this term after last season’s relegation struggle, he added: “I came to two or three games, but my intentions are to come to a lot more from now on.
“Last season was disappointing and we all know the crowds only come when the team is winning and playing well. Hopefully, this season we will see a bit of that and the plastic pitch should help.
“I would have loved to have played on a surface like that and it would really have suited my game.
“The biggest consideration has to be the supporter and hopefully they will get to see decent rugby.”