15th March 2018, 13:38 | championship

Newcastle boss Payne leading the Thunder charge

Newcastle boss Payne leading the Thunder charge

The last 12 months have been quite the rollercoaster for Newcastle Thunder head coach Jason Payne...

By Daniel Fowler

Following the club's decision to part ways with Mick Mantelli in May last year, Payne took over as interim coach and led Newcastle to a play-off semi-final.

Despite the heavy loss to Barrow Raiders, Payne, who also coaches the successful Northumbria University Rugby League side, had done enough to nail down the top job at Kingston Park – something which came around quicker than he had expected.

"I'm really enjoying it. It came a lot sooner than I anticipated," he said.

"I am one of those guys who regularly needs a new challenge to keep me going so on top of that, with the Northumbria stuff, it's keeping me on my toes.

"I'm enjoying it, it's a good challenge and it's made more enjoyable with a great group of players and staff that we've got in place at the minute."

The Newcastle chief managed to keep together most of the squad from 2017, which is a sign of real positivity for the Tyneside club.

Retaining the services of League 1 Young Player of the Year Lewis Young, who came through the ranks at Northumbria, was a big coup for Thunder.

When asked how crucial it was to retain a large number of last year’s squad, Payne said: "It was really important.

"As soon as that game finished at Barrow, I think I had a couple of days feeling sorry for myself then found out that they wanted me to stay on so we went straight into recruitment mode.

"We knew if we wanted to have a decent dig this year, we had to keep our young and senior players while putting a squad together which could compete this season.

"Keeping Lewis was a massive part of it.

"He's come through with me all the way from Northumbria University, after being turned away as a youngster and told he wasn't big enough, to really progressing at university which gave him a few extra years to develop. Now he's doing tremendous."

Newcastle started their league campaign with a superb 60-16 victory away at London Skolars last weekend.

All ten tries, six of which came in the second period, were converted by Thomas Shaw as Newcastle swept the Skolars aside at New River Stadium.

"We started a little bit slow but once we kicked in during the second half, we were ruthless," he added.

"I genuinely think that Skolars team will be pushing for a top eight spot this year. They had three Wigan dual-registration lads in at the weekend which gave them a lot.

"They were no mugs but we played pretty quick and it was a resounding victory in the end so I am pleased with how we have started."

One aspect about the Newcastle club which could make a number of Super League teams envious is their booming youth setup.

With an academy side already beating top tier outfits, the future is certainly bright for Rugby League in the North East.

"I am really proud," Payne beamed about Thunder's youth system.

"Michael Heap is our Head of Youth at Thunder and he's done a phenomenal job over the past few seasons in really nurturing our young talent after taking over from Lee Crooks.

"He's really got the players buying into what we are doing up here. We have got of potential and talent, of course we're still a few years behind where everyone else is in terms of the main heartland areas.

"But what we have got now is a competitive squad, we lost to Warrington by 20 points at the weekend and we felt we really underperformed which says a lot.

"We beat Wakefield at the start of the season so we've got a competitive u19s. But under that we've got a phenomenal 15s and 16s who are playing some great stuff at the minute."

The Thunder are certainly a team to watch in the third tier this year and if they play to their potential, Payne's rollercoaster ride could be taking a trip to the Championship sooner rather than later.