Rugby Football League issue statement following Newcastle Thunder’s withdrawal from League 1

Ben Olawumi
Newcastle Thunder, Kingston Park

Newcastle Thunder in action at Kingston Park against York. Photo: Chris Lishman | MI News.

The Rugby Football League will hold a meeting with the eight remaining clubs in League 1 for 2024 to plan its next steps following Newcastle Thunder’s withdrawal from the third tier.

North East outfit Thunder, who were relegated from the Championship this term, this morning announced that ‘it just isn’t feasible to continue’.

That follows on from London Skolars’ withdrawal ahead of 2024 last month. The capital outfit ended the current campaign bottom of League 1 having lost all 18 of their games, ending on a points difference of -643.

Calls have already been made for the third tier to merge with the Championship, becoming either one division or a ‘Group 1’ and ‘Group 2’ as we’ve seen this year in the Women’s Super League. Newcastle’s withdrawal could now force something along those lines.

Rugby Football League issue statement following Newcastle Thunder’s withdrawal from League 1

In a statement on their website, the RFL addressed the situation, and expressed their sympathy for all connected with the North East outfit, who appear to be in serious danger of folding altogether.

The statement reads: “Newcastle Thunder informed the RFL this week that they would be withdrawing from League One following their relegation in 2023.

“The owners have made assurances that they will be fulfilling contractual obligations to players and staff.

“A meeting has already been arranged for League One clubs to consider the impact of Newcastle’s withdrawal.

“The RFL recognises that this decision will also come as a blow to the community game in the North East, and the many positive elements of Newcastle’s Foundation, including Women’s and Learning Disability teams.

“We will work with everybody impacted and do all we can to maintain this development.”

The rapid demise of Newcastle Thunder; Super League hopefuls last year

Initially founded as the ‘new’ Gateshead Thunder in 1999 following the original club’s merger and eventual re-brand into the club we now know as Hull FC, the Kingston Park natives re-branded in 2015 having been taken over by the owners of local rugby union outfit Newcastle Falcons.

Beaten in the 2019 play-off final by Oldham, promotion to the Championship was eventually secured during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Following Toronto Wolfpack’s demise, Thunder were chosen as the club to replace Leigh – who had been elected into Super League in place of the Canadian outfit – in the second tier for 2021.

After a stable 15th place finish in their first year in the second tier, Newcastle opted to go for a full time model with a view to securing promotion up to Super League for the first time as the ‘new’ club. A 12th-place finish followed though, ending up just one spot above the drop zone, and Thunder quickly reverted back to part time.

That u-turn caused issues from the off this term, and they ended up being the basement boys throughout the season, relegated having won five of their 27 games. Explaining the decision to withdraw from the third tier, Thunder’s statement said: “It is with great sadness that we make this announcement.

“Growing rugby league in the North East was an incredible journey, and we are all devastated that it did not work out.

“Unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19, combined with the low levels of regional growth and development in the game, means it just isn’t feasible to continue.”

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