THE perception of a lot of rugby league fans in the so-called M62 corridor is that Newcastle Thunder are a non-heartland club similar in standard, ambition and financial backing to the likes of London Skolars, Coventry Bears or the two Welsh clubs in Betfred League 1.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Thunder’s squad is full of players with NRL (Australia), Super League, Championship and international appearances, all under the wing of former England assistant boss Denis Betts as Director of Rugby and ex-Toronto Wolfpack assistant coach Simon Finnigan as head coach.
Largely thanks to Thunder’s community work, the grassroots growth of the game in the North-East is second to none.
Thunder have close links with the student game and with Northumbria University in particular and they run three teams of their own, first team, under-19s and under-16s.
The first 60 fans to book on official club transport to the Vestacare Stadium will receive a complimentary Thunder scarf from the club.
They lined up like this in last Sunday’s comprehensive 34-4 win against Doncaster:
Lewis Young (full-back)
One of the most exciting backs in League 1, with more than 20 man-of-the-match awards in his four seasons with Thunder. Reared at Castleford Panthers and Featherstone Lions, he linked up with Thunder when moving to the area to study at university.
Misi Taulapapa (right wing)
Samoan international and ex-Cronulla Sharks (Australia) player whose CV contains more than 230 Championship games for Sheffield Eagles and Featherstone Rovers. Also played for New Zealand Warriors.
Tyler Craig (right centre)
Versatile utility back and one-time York City Knights player. Aged 26, he can play equally well at half-back, centre and wing.
Kieran Gill (left centre)
Top League 1 try-scorer with 26 — seven more than second-placed Gareth Potts of Hunslet. Scored a hat-trick in last week’s win over Doncaster. Well known to Oldham fans, having had two spells here on loan from Castleford Tigers.
Alex Clegg (left wing)
Another product from the Castleford area who moved to Tyneside to go to university — and stayed. Played his early rugby for Stanley Rangers and Castleford Lock Lane.
Quentin Laulu-Togagae (stand-off)
Known as QLT, this Samoan international has played more than 300 senior games for Sheffield Eagles, Toronto Wolfpack, Halifax and Castleford Tigers. Key play-maker and midfield general.
Nick Newman (scrum-half)
Another overseas player, this Aussie half-back signed in mid-season from Coventry Bears where he had made an explosive start to his new venture in the English game. Links well with QLT and has an excellent kicking game.
Liam McAvoy (prop)
Toured to Australia with England Academy in 2012 and spent his early days at Bradford and Leeds before making a name for himself in three years at Workington Town. In 2014, aged 21, named Kingston Press Championship young player of the year.
Keal Carlile (hooker)
Super League experience at Bradford, Huddersfield and Hull KR. In his first season at Thunder, signed from Featherstone. Key play-maker from dummy half. Oldham need to watch him like a hawk.
Harry Aldous (prop)
Signed from Hull KR under-19s three years ago. Tough defender and strong runner. Not flashy, but a stalwart of the Thunder pack.
Joel Edwards (second row)
An Aussie 30-year-old who signed in mid-season. More than 100 first-grade games in the NRL (Australia) with Canberra Raiders, Newcastle Knights and West Tigers. Also played in France with Limoux and a key member of the York City Knights side that won promotion last season.
Rhys Clarke (second row)
One of the most experienced players at the club and in his second spell on Tyneside. A group leader, he has also played at Whitehaven and York.
Sam Luckley (loose forward)
Local lad from North Shields. Started at Wallsend Eagles and then for the North-East Academy. Played for Scotland and had a year on loan at Huddersfield Giants.
Evan Simons (hooker)
Signed from Hemel Stags in 2015. A former Widnes Vikings junior who stands in for Keal Carlile when needed.
Conor Fitzsimons (forward)
Young Cumbrian who played for the Cumbrian Academy before signing for Castleford Tigers and eventually on to Thunder.
Jack Aldous (forward)
Harry’s elder brother and a former York City Knights front-rower. In his third season at Thunder.
Alex Rowe (prop)
Signed from Batley Bulldogs in 2013 after 160 Championship games. This Malta international has also played in Super League with London Broncos and Castleford Tigers.
Jared Blanke (second row)
Aussie second-rower signed from French Elite 1 side Lezignan. Also played up in Queensland with North Devils and West Brisbane Panthers.
Joe Brown (utility back)
Also on the club’s coaching panel, this 32-year-old club stalwart has made more than 200 appearances for Gateshead and Newcastle, mainly at centre or wing.