Newcastle Thunder will play an integral part in the continued growth of rugby league at community level as 2021 and the Rugby League World Cup approaches. 

With the tournament kicking off at St James’ Park on 23 October, three further matches at their Kingston Park Stadium home and a game at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium next year promises to be the biggest ever at all levels for the sport in the north east.

Working in partnership with the club’s official charity and community delivery arm – the Newcastle Rugby Foundation – Thunder will play a prominent role in the new North East Game Board that has been set up to co-ordinate all development activity.

Partners include the North East Rugby League, Thunder Academy, the RFL, RISE (Tyne & Wear Sport), the Foundation and representatives from Women’s & Girls RL, other RL variants and a lead for Equality & Diversity.

With 15 clubs now established in the north east, ambitious plans could see this number rise as high by a further five to 20 over the next two years. Plans are already established to add Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Hexham, Darlington and West Hartlepool by 2022.

This period will see the year up to and twelve months immediately after the World Cup as the prime time to capture the new interest that the tournament will create.

Speaking about the ambitious plans for community rugby league across the north east region Thunder general manager Jordan Robinson said

“Whilst most of the past year has been wiped out we’ve still welcomed new clubs such as Newcastle Magpies, Hartlepool Hurricanes and Wallsend Centurions to the north east rugby league family.

“Over the past 6 years we have seen a 40% growth in new clubs and registered players across the region. We have identified the areas where we believe further interest can be stimulated and we look forward to helping the formation of new rugby league clubs.

“The World Cup will generate tremendous interest in rugby league and we’ve got five fantastic matches in the north east. Via the Foundation we employ four full time community development officers.

“This resource and the support of all the partners who contribute towards the development of the sport will leave a tangible post tournament legacy here in our region.”

The work of the Foundation and the other partners will continue to push the North East Game Board development ethos.

That belief has seen the sport move away from traditional over competitive leagues at junior age groups, replacing activity with games that allow for flexibility of game length, squad sizes and making sure all players play at least half a game.

In the last full season (summer 2019) it lead to a record 87% of all scheduled games being completed and a record 1,400 players registered to play RL across the region (not including student RL players).

Community RL clubs continue to grow across the north east