Some ‘expansion’ clubs haven’t progressed since they were integrated in the Rugby Football League but Newcastle Thunder certainly have.
They have fantastic facilities for a Kingstone Press League 1 side and they share Kingston Park with Rugby Union outfit Newcastle Falcons, a nice stadium with very much a friendly and community feel to it.
And Thunder are the only club outside of Super League to run an Academy, with both the Under-16s and Under-19s mixing it up with the big boys of Academy Rugby League in Wigan Warriors, St Helens, Warrington Wolves and Leeds Rhinos this year.
It’s fantastic to see that a club who are in the third-tier successfully running Academy teams, when some Super League clubs do not even have them.
Salford Red Devils scrapped their Under-19s side ahead of the 2017 campaign while Leigh Centurions do not currently have an Academy at all, but have expressed their desire to get one up and running.
And staying on the subject of youth, it has proved its worth once again as David Weetman is the latest Academy product to sign a contract with the first team squad for 2018.
It’s not as though people can just say the ‘but they just buy players from the heartlands’ line either, with Thunder having 11 members of their 2017 first team squad being from the Newcastle area.
But they don’t just concentrate on themselves as a club, they do a lot of work with the wider community in the North East.
As well as having an Under-16s and Under-19s set-up, they also run a Coach Development Programme, Under-12 Player Development Programme, Under-13 & 14 Development Programme, Under-15 & 16 Development Programme, Newcastle Thunder Under-16s Foundation Academy, Under-19s College Academy as they bid to spread the word of Rugby League in Tyneside.
The club was recognised for their outstanding work with the Newcastle community this year when they won the Foundation of the Year award at the Kingstone Press League 1 presentation evening.
On the field, Newcastle look in a very good place and fans will welcome the news that Jason Payne will remain head coach for 2018 and beyond.
After the club parted ways with club legend Mick Mantelli, Thunder managed to qualify for the League 1 Super 8s and the end of season play-offs, finishing fifth in the league table.
Next season will be Payne’s 10th at the club and he will be looking to lead the North East side to the Championship.
It’s good to see that Thunder are finally starting to get noticed for their contributions on and off the pitch, with highly-rated fullback Lewis Young winning the League 1 Young Player of the Year award recently following an impressive season.
And everyone at the club will be hoping that the Dacia Magic Weekend will stay at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park in 2018.
Thunder benefit from the Super League round massively, with them always playing a home fixture on the Friday night before the weekend gets underway.
A crowd of 2,111 saw them fall short to York City Knights this season and it has provided great entertainment for all supporters who go down to Kingston Park.
We saw Gateshead Thunder in Super League just under 20 years ago, but wouldn’t it be good to see a side in the North East back in the top-flight soon?
The ‘expansion’ project is doing a good job in Newcastle.