Awards recognition for Thunder Community Project

Newcastle Thunder’s community activities were recognised for the second time in three years on Tuesday evening, as the club’s community project was named Betfred Championship & League 1 Foundation of the Year in Manchester.

Named on a three-club shortlist drawn from the 25 Championship and League 1 clubs, Thunder’s award was won off the back of a bumper year of activity that continues to grow the grassroots game in the North East.

With continued delivery of the RFL’s flagship Sky Try programme, the development of a new schools’ cup competition to provide further playing opportunities for these participants and an innovative new player development programme. The Foundation’s activities have played a tangible role in growing participation numbers by 35% over the last five years.

Through Sky Try, the Thunder Community Project saw more than 1,300 youngsters come into contact with rugby league, from all across the region.

At the request of Sky Try participants for more playing opportunities, 2019 saw the Foundation launch the Thunder Schools Cup in order to meet that demand.

For its inaugural year the cup saw Year 7 teams of boys and girls from 16 schools, including three new teams, take part with a finals’ day held at Kingston Park ahead of the fixture against Workington Town. For many, this competition was their first ever contact with the sport.

It provided an inspirational experience of playing at one of the sports’ top stadiums, with a number of the pupils already continuing playing at their local community club.

In the grassroots junior game, SPARC festivals also launched during 2019 to offer an innovative outlet to encourage player development that has been hailed across the UK.

Consisting of modified games in which players earned points for their team by showcasing their own personal abilities and characteristics, with Skill, Physicality, Awareness, Resilience, and Character the SPARC qualities measured by judges throughout the games. Alongside the SPARC qualities, each team also had 3 SPARC powers which could be used throughout their games with the players on the pitch responsible for implementing these powers, enhancing their game awareness and decision making skills.

Thanks to Thunder as a club being responsible for the running of the grassroots game in the North East, it was possible to place these festivals and other development days into breaks within the season structure to ensure high levels of attendance. This resulted in over 80% of the players in the region were able to attend at least one festival over the course of the year.

The control over the season structure has also offered more opportunities for junior players to engage on home match-days. Opportunities as mascots, flag bearers, in half-time display games, coaching clinics and pre-match curtain-raisers allowed Thunder to offer Kingston Park as an ‘open house’ to bring North East Rugby League together at home games.

Combining together, these areas and the Foundation have delivered a sustained increase in participation numbers, with a 35% increase over the last five years.

In 2019 the total number of registered players in the North East reached 1,376, a figure which in itself represents a 5% increase from 2018 and saw 87% of scheduled games completed.  In total 13 community clubs are now active across the region running 46 teams

It shows the sport to be in rude health in the North East of England and with the 2021 Rugby League World Cup drawing closer, in which the region will host five matches in the men’s tournament, the Thunder Community Project will be targeting even further development of the grassroots game.

Commenting on the award and the growth of the sport Mick Hogan Chairman of the Thunder and the Newcastle Rugby Foundation said; “We are proud of the role that the club and the Foundation has played in growing rugby league throughout the north east.

“The ‘Foundation of the Year’ award recognises the huge role that the staff at the club and foundation, the Thunder players, the volunteers throughout the region and our many partners including the RFL, sponsors and the various local authorities play in this success.  It truly is a massive team effort and shows what can be achieved when an ambitious and common vision is shared by everyone involved.

“We have an exciting few years ahead with the 2021 Rugby League World Cup opening in Newcastle and we will be announcing some exciting plans and an even bigger investment in the community game in the next month.  It’s exciting times and we continue to press ahead in what is a generational project to establish the rugby league as a mainstream sport in the north east.”