Newcastle a rugby city as much as a football one, say promotion hopefuls Thunder

KIDS in Newcastle are wanting to be the next Sam Tomkins or Jackson Hastings as much as the next Alan Shearer.

And rugby may soon be calling the Toon as much as football, with the Thunder’s hoped-for promotion to the Championship the next step.

Rugby league bosses will today decide who steps up to the second tier as the sport reshuffles following Toronto Wolfpack being voted out of Super League.

One or five clubs will be brought up from League One to replace the one that is elevated to the top flight next week.

And Newcastle chairman Mick Hogan revealed just how the oval ball is becoming as popular as the round one in the north-east, with winning Super League by 2030 the aim.

Hogan said: “Newcastle’s starting to become known as a rugby city.

“We’ve had union World Cup games and European finals but also four Magic Weekends – soon to be five – and we’ve a number of league World Cup games.

“What those big events do is generate interest and a survey of 2,500 people found 50 per cent of them consider Newcastle to be a rugby city. We started on single digits five years before.

“It gives kids other role models and we’re starting to get the pick of the athletes up here choosing rugby league.

“Some in our academy, which covers union and league, are also choosing league, which is pretty significant for us – we’re getting footballers too to try it.

“And promotion would be another step in our long-term mission, to win Super League by 2030.

“Some look at us when we say that as if we’ve had too many bottles of Brown Ale but we honestly believe we can get it.”

Newcastle, owned by the same group as rugby union’s Falcons, are starting to produce their own, with Salford new boy Sam Luckley hailing from North Shields.

Magic Weekend is heading back to St James’ Park next year and a number of World Cup games will be either at the regional football cathedral, Kingston Park or Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium.

Promotion would put the Thunder one step from the big time but their development is about far more than that – this is no Paris St Germain or even a Toronto.

Hogan added: “If you want long-term success, you’ve got to have a solid foundation and we have to produce our own players. Sam came through our programmes and we had four in England’s academy squad, that’s ahead of some Super League clubs.

“You’ve got to have a stadium people want to go to, an off-field set up and the community and academy side as well.

“A lot of foundations are in place but none of them are short-term programmes, they’re generational. It’ll be 15 or 20 years before you really see the full benefit of them.

“We’ve 15 community clubs now from Alnwick to Yarm and five more planned for the next few years in Hexham, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Hartlepool and Darlington.

“We may be behind clubs that have been there for 120 years or more but what we’ve got is such a big area to go at and, to a degree, a blank canvas.”

Doncaster, Rochdale, Barrow and Workington have also applied and despite the ambition and the appeal of Newcastle, Hogan is not making any assumptions.

He told SunSport: “Definitely not. Any of the five would make a good addition to the Championship.

“We’d all bring something in our own way.”

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