Gateshead coach Kevin Neighbour insists Thunder’s future is bright, despite uncertainty and adversity continuing to plague rugby league in the north east.
Neighbour, who is Thunder’s all-time record try-scorer, is now at the helm of a club based firmly in its local community.
And he believes the time and investment Gateshead have made in the grass roots will pay off in the coming years.
Neighbour said: “There’s been a bit of upheaval recently with RFL staff being made redundant, and that’s put the onus back on the community clubs to develop the growth of the sport in the north east.
“Things are a little uncertain, but the knowledge and enthusiasm these clubs now have will make them self-sufficient pretty soon.
“There are a handful of clubs that should go from strength to strength, from juniors right the way through to open age, and that will only benefit Gateshead Thunder in the long run.”
He added: “Gateshead Thunder will be an outlet for local kids to play professional sport, and we’re getting a stronger foothold nowadays than we’ve ever had.
“When I first took over as head coach, I went through a massive learning curve very quickly.
“There was a lot of setting things up that are starting to come to fruition this year.”
Now Neighbour, who at 30 years old is the second youngest head coach in the semi-professional ranks, is setting his sights on a bright future.
He said: “I’ve been really happy with the quality of staff I’ve been able to get in this year, and had we been a little bit more seasoned and experienced as a squad then we’ve had probably picked up a few more wins – and that would have put us right in the mix for the play-offs.
“Every year is going to be a learning curve for a coach my age. I’ve had to learn pretty quickly, but hopefully there have been some right decisions made and that will set us up for the future.”
Neighbour is reluctant to set long-term goals for the club, preferring instead to challenge everyone to improve with every passing year.
“At the moment we take it one year at a time, because the uncertainty of how the leagues are going to go means we just don’t know what’s going to happen.
“Once the new structure is released, then the club can make a plan about what we’re aiming for in the next few years.
“But as long as the club makes progress year on year, that’s all we can do.”
Kingstone Press Cider has teamed up with LoveRugbyLeague to celebrate all things great about the rugby league Championships. For the rest of the season, ‘Championing the Championships’ campaign will put a weekly spotlight on each Championship and Championship 1 club to focus on their most memorable moments, look back at the clubs heroes and reward the loyal fans. Read more.