Wilkinson to extend deal as Newcastle consolidate

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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson, who needs only to boil a kettle without burning himself to generate a thousand headlines these days, is expected to sign a two-year extension to his contract with Newcastle by the end of the month.

Jonny Wilkinson, who needs only to boil a kettle without burning himself to generate a thousand headlines these days, is expected to sign a two-year extension to his contract with Newcastle by the end of the month.

Along with his midfield partner Jamie Noon, who has been offered a three-year deal, Wilkinson has signalled his intention to stay at Kingston Park until after the 2007 World Cup in France - a strong indicator of the Falcons' continuing development under Rob Andrew, who has guided them to a top-four place in the Premiership and a strong position in their Heineken Cup pool.

Wilkinson is big box office, and his decision to stay in the north-east will be of incalculable benefit to the sport in its efforts to construct a lasting stronghold in die-hard football territory. Nevertheless, another announcement yesterday may be turn out to be every bit as significant: Mathew Tait's decision to commit himself to Newcastle for another year.

Tait, just 18 but a blinding force of nature at outside centre, is probably the most talked-about English back since Wilkinson himself first made an impact at senior level in 1997. He has agreed a 12-month extension to his current deal, which should just about cover his inevitable progress into the full England team. By the time the new contract expires, he will probably be worth a mint.

"We have chosen this particular time to sort out the contracts issue so we can continue to build and look ahead as a club," said Andrew, the Premiership's longest-serving director of rugby, yesterday. "We have made great strides recently and are extremely keen not to lose that momentum. By securing the core of our squad for the years ahead, as well as tying up negotiations with some other key players, we have a firm foundation."

The front-row forward Ian Peel, vice-captain with Wilkinson this season, and the 23-year-old No 8 Phil Dowson are also in for two more years; Cory Harris, the former Celtic Warriors flanker, has been rewarded with a long-term deal after impressing all and sundry since his arrival on Tyneside; and two academy products, the prop Micky Ward and the scrum-half Hall Charlton, have committed themselves to the club for the foreseeable future. Only Epi Taione, the out-sized Tongan wing, has rejected fresh terms. He is expected to move on at the end of the season.

Still on the contract front, the England and Lions prop, Phil Vickery, has put pen to paper on a contract extension that will keep him at Gloucester until the end of the 2006-07 campaign.

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