Newcastle Thunder head coach Chris Thorman wants his side to make the most of the increased interest in rugby league in the region after the success of the autumn’s Rugby League World Cup in the north-east.
England thrashed eventual finalists Samoa 60-6 in the tournament opener at the city’s St James’ Park stadium in front of over 43,000 fans, while three more fixtures involving Scotland, Fiji and Italy at the Thunder’s Kingston Park home also attracted healthy gates.
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And Thorman is hoping that 2023, which began with an 18-6 Thunder win at Swinton Lions in their opening Betfred Championship fixture, can be a further showcase of rugby league’s continued growth on Tyneside.
“I’m originally from the north-east and a big part of me coming back to the club is buying into that community feel, a little bit of which the World Cup tapped into,” Thorman tells The Sportsman. “We had some really positive attendances and a lot of those were generally people from the local area, so I’m well aware that the support is there.
“The first part of that is having a successful team on the pitch, that’s my first objective. There’s a lot of other factors that can contribute to [increasing interest] but my job is stripping it back and I suppose going back to basics and the foundations of the club. And primarily that is making sure we’re successful on the pitch.”
There has been gradual growth for Newcastle in recent seasons. Having narrowly lost the 2019 League 1 promotion play-off final to Oldham, the side were elevated to the second tier following a restructure of the Championship after the Covid-19 pandemic. And since their promotion they have held their own, finishing 11th and 12th in their first two seasons at this level.
While the club has returned to part-time status for 2023, Thorman insists that is not an outlook that is being reflected within the club.
“We don’t really like to call it part-time. We’re well-paid professionals whether you do other things in your spare time as well,” he explains. “That’s not something that you’ll hear from me, and generally the players and the support staff and backroom staff are all aware of that too, we’re all going to work as hard as possible to make sure that this club is successful.”
The Thunder head to Toulouse Olympique on Saturday as the first side to visit the French outfit since they were relegated from Super League in 2022. But Thorman is clear on what his team’s goals are this year.
“Improvement and consistency, because that’s probably what’s been lacking over the last few years,” he adds. “This Championship gets stronger and stronger every year. When you look at the sides that have been promoted, Keighley went unbeaten throughout an entire campaign and if that’s not to be respected than what is?”
The Toulouse v Newcastle game kicks off at 6pm on Saturday, with two winning records going head to head after Olympique’s win at Barrow Raiders in round one.
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