Newcastle coach Simon Finnigan admits it’s up to him to ensure that the club’s on-field progress mirrors the strides forward being taken off it.
Thunder have set their sights on winning Super League in 2030, while the return of the Magic Weekend and next year’s World Cup opening ceremony offer further opportunities for Rugby League in the region.
Finnigan’s side missed out on promotion to the Championship last season after losing to Oldham in the play-off final, and the Australian is eager to build on the club’s development work by taking the team up in 2020.
He told RL NEWS: “We played Whitehaven in a friendly recently and we had eight or nine that had come through the Academy, which is great.
“The game is constantly talking about development and one of the less traditional towns for the sport has Academy products coming through, and that’s just scratching the surface.
“What they’re doing off the field, even just during the time I’ve been here, is impressive, and I think they’ve already created two or three new amateur clubs.
“It’s a great club with great facilities and what they’re doing off the field is unbelievable.
“We’ve got a Reserves team this year, we’ve got an 18s, a 16s, we’ve got the development programme, and this stuff’s been going on a while.
“It’s not something that just started last year.
“They work so hard off the field to try and bring a community game into a professional environment.
“I see the development and the growth, and you need that, but it’s my job to progress the first team to where it needs to be.
“After losing in play-offs last year, the goal is not to get into that game and to get automatic promotion.
He added: “I’ve not seen any disappointment in the players since they’ve come back, I’ve seen a hungry group, including myself, so as much as we were disappointed last year, that’s in the past and we move on.”
But Finnigan admits that competition in the third tier will be just as intense this time around, while insisting that his Thunder side don’t enter into the campaign as favourites.
“Barrow are going to come down and be favourites, and they’ve kept pretty much kept the whole squad that got them in the Championship in the first place.
“They’re going to be hard to beat, while Doncaster were have made some very good signings and done some really smart business, so they’re going to be up there.
“Keighley without the points deduction will also add a whole different element to the league.
“The competition was tight last year and we weren’t sure of the top six until right at the end, and I’d imagine it’ll be similar this time around.
“There are no easy games and even teams like West Wales have strengthened.
“You’re going to have to be good to win the league, and when you’re in that mix in the play-offs it truly is anyone’s.”
Meanwhile, Finnigan reserved praise for the club’s owner, Semore Kurdi, who is also the major benefactor behind Newcastle Falcons.
“What he’s done for the club and the city is incredible.
“He won’t want me saying how much he’s done, because he’s the sort of person that likes to stay in the background, but he’s an unbelievable owner.
“I didn’t know anything about him until I joined the club, but his knowledge and what he does off the field is unbelievable.
“He wants the club and the region to be as one and he’s not just a talker – he genuinely wants the North East to thrive, including with the rugby union.
“It helps to have a person like that in the background and he’s a brilliant owner.
“It’s not a Rugby League town, but he’s trying to make it that way and that’s a credit to him.”