Northern's chairman of rugby Andy James believes their early-season struggles in North One East can give way to a more fruitful outlook by the end of the North One East season.
The McCracken Park club are currently hovering around the relegation scrap, James stating: “We have got a very young first-team squad, and what we have lacked at the start of this season is some of the older heads.
“We have surprised ourselves in one sense by doing well in some of the games we were probably expected to lose, but some of the bigger packs down in Yorkshire have caused us some problems. Getting some of our more experienced players back will make a difference as the season goes on, but our backs are starting to put things together and look the part.”
Taking the time to blood their next wave at the right point, James said: “We have got a number of young lads waiting in the wings who we want to try in the first-team but, because we have been struggling a little in the forwards, we have held them back a little.
“Introducing them in that kind of scenario might mean they are put off by being beaten by bigger and more experienced sides, so it is trying to balance the two in giving them their game when the time is right.”
Once again coached by Dave Guthrie, who has also played for and coached the Northumberland county side, James credits much of Northern’s good work to the long-time Blaydon forward.
“Dave has just got his RFU level three award, and he is one of only a few coaches in the county who have achieved that,” he said. “We are keen to help Dave in his development. He has got ambition, and will again be helping coach the Northumberland county side this season.
“I am sure he will go far in the long-term, but at the moment he is happy at Northern. His son plays in the minis here, and Dave is quite heavily involved in that. It seems to be a nice fit. He was 10 years captain at Blaydon, and has brought all of that to us. When the leagues were first brought in we tumbled down, having been introduced at level three. We went down to level seven, and what we did not have at that time was a coaching team who had played at a higher level.
“By bringing Dave here, who had played a consistently high standard at Blaydon, it has given us that background understanding of what is required to play higher up the divisions. Our younger players have benefited from that, and Dave has also brought in one or two guys who have been at that sort of level previously. That experience has been great, and it is important for young lads to understand what is required.”
Determined not to take the tumble into Durham and Northumberland One as they battle with Alnwick and Middlesbrough, among others, the chairman of rugby insisted: “North One East is probably the best fit for us at the moment. If you are going to venture into levels four or five, especially four, then you have to begin to look at being semi-professional.
“Percy Park have managed to get into level five as an amateur club, which is what we would ideally like to do. After that you have got to look at at least a few of your players being semi-pro, sadly, but level five is somewhere we can aspire to be.”
Taking a wider view of Northern’s current situation, James explained: “We get three senior sides out regularly now, and we are talking about getting a veterans’ side out every other month.
“We had a veterans’ game against a touring side a few weeks back which drew a number of former players back to the club, and the feeling from them afterwards was that they would like to have a handful of similar games. That is a great way to get them back involved rather than being lost to the game, and if we could get them out once a month or two it would be fantastic.
“Unfortunately we didn’t have enough players to put a Colts side out, so we have pooled resources with Novos and Gosforth to field a joint team between the three of us at that level.
“The age-group behind them has the numbers to be able to play as a Northern Colts side, and it is just one of those things that you sometimes see when one year group is either up or down on players. Everything else at the club seems to be thriving, and we have got a very active squash section.
“All in all we are putting out 26 teams every week, and last year we were named rugby club of the year after being nominated by the brewers, Marston’s. We have been nominated for the same award this year, as well as community club of the year, and in total we have something like 1,800 members.
“We are very active in the community with things like tumble tots every morning, bridge club, Welsh society, fishing club, yoga club, allotment society and a number of other groups meeting there. Financially that means we are in good shape, and our rugby is on the mend in terms of getting home-grownplayersin.”