On the day the Aviva Premiership fixtures are announced, Newcastle Falcons’ sense of stability has been further reinforced by new contracts for wing duo Ryan Shortland and Noah Cato.
The pair started both legs of the Falcons’ victorious RFU Championship play-off final win over Bedford, and will make the journey with them back to the top flight after a single season in the second tier of English rugby.
Shortland, 27, has agreed a one-year extension to remain at Kingston Park, saying: “I really enjoyed the atmosphere around the club last season, and the positive vibe has continued throughout pre-season.
“That is one of the reasons why I have decided to commit my future to Newcastle. We are now back into pre-season training, and I cannot wait for the Aviva Premiership season to kick off.”
The Kiwi, who has played Rugby League in Australia and New Zealand, scored one of two Falcons tries in the decisive second leg of their Championship final, and has been rewarded for a solid campaign. The former Otago man featured regularly when fit, scoring the winning try at Leeds and a brace in the British and Irish Cup drubbing of Nottingham.
Cato, 25, joined the Falcons from Northampton Saints in March, marking his debut with an injury-time winner in the home date with Bedford. Going on to score in the British and Irish Cup semi-final against the same opposition, the ex-Saracens and England Sevens cap has now made the move a permanent one by agreeing a new two-year deal.
Both he and Shortland form part of a back-three stable including Alex Tait and Tom Catterick, the versatile academy products who themselves yesterday renewed terms, signing two-year extensions.
But with Luke Fielden leaving for the England Sevens squad and Tongan international Suka Hufanga out of contract, Dean Richards has moved to secure his remaining wing stocks. The director of rugby will also be boosted by the presence of teenage sensation Zach Kibirige, the England Under-18s international who has recently completed his A-Levels at Yarm School.
Kibirige scored in each of the four senior games he appeared in last season, the Middlesbrough-born prospect having his appearances rationed after Christmas to concentrate on his studies.
Falcons academy manager Mark Laycock admitted the exciting 18-year-old flyer is still a work in progress, stating: “In terms of Zach we will support him all the way, and he himself would admit he still has areas of the game he needs to work on.
“He did fantastically well last season in picking up our academy player of the year, and really took his chances when selected for the first team. Five tries in four games for a teenager is a superb return, and if he can stay anywhere near that standard he is not in bad shape.”
Integrating Kibirige into the senior set-up during the summer, he added: “Zach is having a full pre-season with Newcastle then going on tour with England Under-18s. He will be mixing it with the senior guys, and seeing whether or not he can shine during the pre-season friendlies.”
Resisting the urge to press the accelerator to the floor in the youngster’s development, Laycock said: “Patience is going to be important with Zach, as it is with Scotty Wilson following his role in helping England win the Under-20s World Cup last month.
“Sometimes patience is hard when they are doing so well for club and country, but we want these guys to have 15-year careers at the top level rather than burning them out when they are teenagers.
“People need to remember where they are at in their development, and the coaching team at the Falcons have been great in taking that into account.
“Dean Richards and his team are superb in the way they look after the younger players, and they realise how important it is over the long term.”