Rugby League: Gateshead scheme to steal rivals' thunder

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The Independent Online
THE NORTH-EAST heard the preliminary rumbles yesterday of the unfamiliar team, playing an unfamiliar game, that intends to win the region over next season. The Super League franchise on the Tyne will be known as Gateshead Thunder, it was announced, and their colours of purple, royal blue and gold will one day, they hope, be as recognisable as the famous black and white stripes across the river.

It was significant that their one local player signed so far, the 17- year-old back-row forward Russell Hugill, was given the distinction of modelling the new strip.

"It was an honour for him, but also an honour for us to sign him, because he is going to be something special as a player," said the club's chief executive, Shane Richardson, who has otherwise concentrated on signing players from his native Australia. "We want to get some more English players into the side and we are talking to several at the moment."

Although Gateshead's thunder was stolen to some extent by news of their name leaking out in advance, the message yesterday was that this is something new and different for a region that has traditionally warmed only to football.

"We're in an area that doesn't know rugby league, so we are launching ourselves as a new sport with a new attitude," Richardson said. "People probably don't realise yet that we are a summer game, not competing with football and rugby union."

The comparison with rugby union is an apposite one, with Newcastle Falcons recently pulling out of the Gateshead International Stadium after failing to attract big crowds. Part of the Thunder's tactics for avoiding the same fate is a seductive pricing policy to lure families to rugby league.

"Football and rugby union have both priced themselves out of it for families to some extent," Richardson said. "We are going to go about it in a completely new way. If we did it in the old way, I don't think we would succeed."

The New Zealand coach, Frank Endacott, has named an unchanged side for Saturday's match at Bolton, where they aim to wrap up their first Test series victory in Britain for 27 years. The Wigan stand-off Henry Paul, influential in his side's 22-16 victory at Huddersfield, again has to settle for a place on the bench, with younger brother Robbie preferred as partner to scrum-half Stacey Jones.