With a Challenge Cup legend as director of rugby and a hungry young coach, Newcastle Thunder are making some noise ahead of Sunday’s live showdown with York on The Sportsman.
The two Betfred Championship sides clash in the fourth round of the sport’s most prestigious Cup competition, with seven-time winner Denis Betts the man overseeing ambitious Newcastle’s rise up rugby league’s pyramid.
Yet it is Betts’ prodigy, coach Eamon O’Carroll, who most epitomises the club’s desire to bring rugby league success to the North East Of England.
“We are described as ambitious because long-term the club wants to go all the way up the ladder,” the 34-year-old O’Carroll told me this week.
“But we have to stay humble, we have no right to think that just because we are full-time we will do X, Y and Z.
“Other people might make noises but they are not the noises we are making from within, we have too much respect for the competition.”
The former Ireland international has been in charge at Newcastle since the end of 2020 and retains the same passion as a coach that fuelled his career as a no-nonsense forward for Wigan, Hull FC and Widnes.
Indeed O’Carroll could still be playing. When injury forced his premature retirement aged just 30, he earned his coaching stripes under Betts at Widnes, before a bold move to France to continue his education under the guidance of Catalans Dragons’ former England boss Steve McNamara.
“The two years I spent in France were probably more like ten years experience,” he tells me.
“The coach was Steve Mac and he is the one I have always looked up to most. I speak to him a lot and he is an unbelievably impressive guy.
“What he did for me as a young coach I will be forever grateful. He didn’t just give me an opportunity, he also put time into it and helped me develop, and challenged me in the right way. He was also a very young coach when he started, so has experienced the ups and downs, and now the success.”
Newcastle, previously Gateshead Thunder, have won two of their first four games of the Betfred Championship season. They gained promotion in 2020 following Leigh’s elevation to Super League to fill the void left by Toronto’s demise.
With York also opening the season with two wins from four games, O’Carroll says he looks at this weekend’s opponents as a measure of the infrastructure and hard work that is required to bring a club up through the tiers.
“York are probably a couple of years ahead of where we are,” he says.
“They have done a fantastic job and we are looking at that. Their facilities are brilliant and that’s what we want. When I watch games on The Sportsman or Premier Sports I want it to look good.
“So far this season it hasn’t looked good because of the weather so I hope that changes for your viewers on Sunday.
“Our game at Barrow wasn’t rugby. It’s poor at the moment because they are mud baths so I hope it’s a good spectacle.
“York have a settled spine and some grunt up front, so we will have to be on it defensively. We need to be disciplined and restrict them and if we do that it could be one hell of a game.
“I don’t know why but whenever you train leading up to a Challenge Cup game it just has a different feel about it. It’s that anticipation and knowing it is sudden death.
“ I love it, it’s history, and we’ve got a director of rugby in Denis Betts who has won the thing seven times. We want to give it a good go.”
Join us live from the LNER Community Stadium this Sunday for York City Knights v Newcastle Thunder, a 3pm kick off live and exclusive on The Sportsman