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Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Thursday, 2 September 2010 13:57 UK

Gateshead Thunder eye better times

Rhys Clarke
Thunder finished bottom of Championship One last season

by Martin Lindsay
BBC Newcastle Blast Reporter

After a year of turmoil on and off the field, Gateshead Thunder are looking forward to a brighter future.

The season just gone saw Thunder finish bottom of Championship One with minus-two points after recording just one win in 20 league games.

But off the field things are improving for the club who hope their administrative and financial troubles are behind them.

Last autumn they managed to reform after going out of business for the fifth time in their 12-year history.

Chris Hood, who stepped aside from his role as director of rugby at the end of the campaign, told BBC Newcastle: "It's been the most difficult season.

"I've learned a lot about myself and what it's like to have your back against the wall. You get to see who your real friends are and who you want to stand next to in the trenches.

"The club did go under. It was wound up and it was gone," said Hood, who had to work for free in order to keep the club alive.

"We worked very hard for six weeks to put a business plan together because, quite rightfully, the RFL weren't going to accept a team that couldn't fulfil all of their league fixtures."

After the club infrastructure was accepted by the Rugby Football League Thunder had to rebuild a squad decimated by demotion.

Super League side Crusaders had signed Australian full-back Nick Youngquest, Championship Grand Final winners Barrow snapped up hooker Andrew Henderson and second-row Michael Knowles, while half-back Luke Branighan and centre Dylan Nash moved to play-off hopefuls Halifax.

Thunder were boosted by the return from injury of captain Kevin Neighbour and experienced winger Robin Peers, but the majority of the squad that has struggled in Championship One was plucked from local rugby league sides.

However, despite a disappointing season Thunder have had an average attendance of 500, a fan-base that compares with some of the league's more successful outfits.

Chris Hood
Former director of rugby Hood thinks Thunder will have a bright future

The club have also set up a number of junior teams and attracted 40 sponsors - a task that seemed impossible during the uncertain pre-season.

In March they linked up with Durham Tigers to set up an under-18 centre of excellence,.

"The community game is as strong as it's ever been," said Hood.

"We have five community coaches working across the North East, as well as having more officials and volunteers."

With Hood now working on the club's community projects former Wakefield Trinity Wildcats academy and reserve coach Richard Pell has taken charge of rugby matters.

"It's a bright move forward as Richard is a top coach, and an even better man," said Hood.

"When I decided to step aside Richard was the first person I rang. We had a meeting and he ticked all the boxes.

"He's worked at Super League and has also played at this level so he knows what the players are going through.

Nick Youngquest
Crusaders full-back Nick Youngquest was one of the stars to quit Gateshead

"He has a great future ahead of him so to have him working with us is a fantastic step forward for the club."

Over the last 12 months Thunder have managed to build an infrastructure for survival on a shoestring budget.

Hood believes if the correct decisions are made, Thunder can be a force to be reckoned with in years to come.

"We want to keep our development programme vibrant and of course be more productive on the field," he said.

"The main aim is for every single part of the club to move forward, and if we're doing that, how can we not be successful?"



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