Local Talent Rae Ready to Shine Through

2017 has seen nine new faces welcomed into the Thunder ranks for the upcoming season, with one, in particular, pointing to the future of the club with a core of North East talent.

County Durham’s Alexander Rae or Sandy as he is known to teammates and coaches has been making steady progress up the rugby league ranks since taking up the sport as a means of keeping fit during the rugby union offseason at the age of 12.

Hailing from the village of Brancepeth, Rae was on the path towards joining the academy set up of the club’s union stable mates Newcastle Falcons, but after first tasting the sport at Durham Tigers is now a fully converted league man.

“I started playing rugby union and was brought up on that until I was about 12, but all my mates were playing rugby league and got me into it as a summer thing. I really enjoyed it and dropped union to concentrate on league,” explains Rae.

The speed of the game and the physicality made it more fun and enjoyable as a sport and now, I could never see myself playing union again.

Following the folding of Durham Tigers, Rae switched to Peterlee Pumas before eventually moving over to Durham Demons when they started up a team for Rae’s age grade.

It was at the Pumas though where he first drew the attention of the region’s player development programmes.

When I was at Peterlee, I was still a union lad playing there for fitness but I was seen by the coaches from what was then North East Thunder and they asked me to come and to train with them. It was once a week to start with but I’ve gone on from there.”

Going from there has required the full support of his family with the young Rae owing a great deal of his progress to his dad, who ensured his son was able to make his way to training from out in rural County Durham.

“My Dad took me everywhere, without him I wouldn’t be able to play rugby and do what I have done.  It wasn’t just a bus ride away to Peterlee from where I live out in Brancepeth!

“He was the person who got me into rugby to start with. He played rugby union, but when I started playing rugby league, he converted too.”

With a course now plotted within the 13 man code, 2016 saw Rae make huge strides, regularly training with Hull Academy and being named coach’s player of the year at the North East Rugby League end of season awards.

His progress was so impressive, it saw him offered a senior contract with Thunder for 2017, something that has Rae eagerly awaiting the new Kingston Press League 1 season.

“It was a bit of a surprise to get the contract on the night of the awards.  Thunder rang me before so I got a little bit of warning! I was hoping that something would come for this year and I was really happy when it did.

“I’m getting to train with some really good players, I feel like I am learning every week. I’m training with the first team as a full member of the squad, but because I’m still able to play for the 19s, if I’m not involved with the firsts, then I’ll be part of that team.”

Having completed pre-season within the inner sanctum of the Thunder dressing room, Rae is finding his place within the squad and already setting out goals for the year ahead.

“It’s a good atmosphere and everyone gets along which makes it more enjoyable. This year I just want to prove myself in training, learn more about the sport and hopefully, eventually get some games.  Mick [head coach Mantelli] and Heapy [assistant coach Michael Heap] have been giving me pointers and are pushing me to drive forward.

“It looks like it’s going to be a really good year. From the start, everyone seems to have clicked within just a few sessions.  I’ve never seen that everything just looking really slick and coming off. The training is hard but everyone is keeping going and working hard so it should be a pretty solid year.”

Rae is eligible for selection in this weekend’s pre-season friendly against Whitehaven at Kingston Park Stadium, the first on-field action of the year.

Tickets are available to purchase now, priced at £7 for adults and £3 for under 16s.  To book, call 0871 2266060, click here or purchase from the stadium ticket office on Saturday