Newcastle Thunder chairman Keith Christie has issued an ultimatum to the north-east’s rugby league community ahead of his team’s return to action in Betfred League One next season.
Christie has been integral to the resurrection of the club who announced their resignation from senior competition following relegation from the Championship in October, when departing owner Semore Kurdi said it was “not feasible” to continue.
A group of volunteers led by Christie responded by stepping in to chisel a viable business plan which resulted in an application to effectively rejoin the domestic league’s third tier being accepted two days before Christmas.
⚡️⚡️ Happy New Year Thunder Fans ⚡️⚡️ pic.twitter.com/Dd4rAmQ9cx
— Newcastle Thunder (@ThunderRugby) December 31, 2023
The heady days of full-time professionalism and aspirations of Super League have been shelved for the time being, as Christie works to grow the club from the bottom up, a project for which he stresses the backing of local fans and businesses is critical.
“The club has gone through a couple of guises with serious investment, and it hasn’t worked,” Christie told the PA news agency.
“My question was, do we have the desire for a rugby league team in the north-east? And the overwhelming response was, we do. To which my answer is – prove it.
“I’ve been through the mill a couple of times with this club and it’s not something I do lightly. It takes a lot of time and effort. We have a financial commitment and a ground, but it is fundamentally balanced on the investment and support we get from the people in the north-east.”
Christie has been involved with the club in an official capacity since he was first appointed general manager in 2009, and has observed their fluctuating fortunes, including a decision to go full-time in 2022, which was reversed the following year, plunging them to the foot of the Championship.
With the club having been left debt-free following talks with outgoing owner Kurdi, and striking a deal to continue playing at Kingston Park, at least in the short-term, Christie sees plenty of cause for optimism.
Newcastle-born former Super League player Chris Thorman has committed to another season as head coach, while there was also an unexpected boost in the first list of ratings issued by sports media giant IMG, which will determine the make-up of the top-flight from the 2025 season onwards, which rated Thunder – ironically dormant at the time – in 18th position.
“The IMG ranking is a bit of a bonus but it wasn’t a driving factor,” added Christie. “We have been through a lot of areas where mistakes were made, and one thing we learned is that we can’t expect to go out and buy a winning team.
“We’ve got a huge opportunity to grow the game organically and develop our own players. To do that we have to be sustainable, but we also have to have investment, and that’s the message I’ll be sending throughout the year.
“As romantic as it sounds, I’ve been part of rugby league in the north-east since 1989, and I don’t want to lose this.”