Cramlington Rockets have revealed their first team coaching staff for the 2017 season.
Newcastle Thunder Academy Coach, David Townend will be leading as Head Coach, supported by fellow Thunder man, Stewart Walker as head of strength and conditioning, the first time the club has had a coach dedicated to this role.
Townend and Walker replace Newcastle Thunder players, Evan Simons and Vincent Rennie who have stepped down due to a change in circumstances meaning they would not be available this season.
Townend joins the club after a successful spell with the Newcastle Thunder U16s, their 2017 campaign including a victory over Salford Red Devils, only the second time in Thunder's history it has taken a Super League scalp.
An Ireland U18 international during his time in the Huddersfield Giants Academy growing up, Towend continued his coaching development at Northumbria University in 2009, playing for the first team then assisting occasionally on the sidelines. He has also been the head coach for the North East regional side.
The Rockets finished third in the league last season
Dave Townend with Newcastle Thunder under 16s
"I am excited to get started," said Townend.
"The Rockets are a well-known club both in the North East and nationally and I know first-hand from the Newcastle Thunder Academy the quality of players coming through the ranks there.
"The way I set a team out to play will be appealing to the players. Defence is the bedrock of any strong team, but with the playing resources we have, I am confident our halves and outside backs will have a lot of success."
Northern Ireland-born, Stewart Walker also arrives at the club via Northumbria University, where he recently completed a Masters in Strength & Conditioning.
Head of Strength & Conditioning at the Newcastle Thunder Academy, he is familiar with the many Rockets players who, when not selected for Thunder, will be available to the first team this season.
Walker has accumulated a wealth of experience with notable clubs in recent years, spending time with Super League side, Warrington Wolves, Pro12 Champions Ulster Rugby and Tyne Met College amongst others.
"There is a lot of potential in the squad and we are confident we can improve on last season," said Walker.
Cramlington Rockets are one of the country's leading clubs
The club's first team had an average age of just 21 last year
"Evan and Vincent did a great job last year and to finish third with a team with an average age of 21 last season is tremendous and gives us a strong base to build on.
"The fact we have a number of age group internationals and current academy players means there is talent throughout the team.
"We are also keen on last year's under 16s making the step up to Open Age rugby, as several have already done, and that will ensue the club values they learnt as juniors gets carried through to seniors."
Cramlington Rockets Chairman, Jeff Ball was very pleased with his new coaching team: “We are thrilled to welcome David and Stewart on board.
"We have a young squad at the Rockets and Dave and Stewart bring a lot experience working with developing players as well as a coaching philosophy that will definitely maximise the abilities of the players we have at the club.
"The addition of Stewart as a strength and conditioning coach, something new for the club, also means we are offering our players an environment that is even more focused on ensuring they realise their potential."
Discussing the loss of Simons and Rennie, Ball explained: "Evan and Vincent did a great job for us last year and we had our best season for a number of years.
"Sadly changing work commitments and other factors mean they can't commit to being at training and match day every week now but we are still hoping to welcome them down at certain points through the season to spend time with both seniors and juniors."
Turning to his hopes for the season ahead, Ball said: "The first team is the pinnacle of the club and we are looking at its development as a long term project. After a successful year one, I am confident year two is going to be even better."
Cramlington Rockets is one of the UK’s leading clubs with teams from Tots to seniors. Its Open Age team is open to all players aged 16+ and train on Wednesday evenings at 7pm at Cramlington Learning Village.
The first session is April 12, with all experiences and abilities welcome. Matches are played on Saturday afternoons with the season running from May to August.