Youthful Cramlington Rockets squad secure Grand Final place
Playing in the North East Premier Division, Cramlington Rockets needed to beat 2015 champions Wallsend Eagles to make history and reach their first ever Grand Final.
The Rockets have lost only three matches all season, but two of them were against the Eagles.
However, buoyed by the determination to right a disappointing loss the previous week against Jarrow Vikings, they showed true character and flair to win 32-16.
With an average squad age of only 19 this season, the starting XIII featured no less than nine teenagers, including Ryan Hull, an under-16.
No player was over 24 and 16 of the 20-man squad had come through the club’s youth system.
Cramlington Rockets have developede a reputation for its youth set up and earlier this month had two players training with England Youth, more than even some Super League clubs.
The current squad boosts some highly talented players, including England Lionhearts, Matty Gordon, Jack Tait and Fraser Boldy and respective 2017 North East Player and Young Player of the Year nominees, Louis Platt.
The Rockets have also seen eight players progress to the Newcastle Thunder U19s and were unavailable for selection, including Thunder captain David Weetman and England Youth international Jake Woods, both of whom have valid desires for a first team jersey next season.
“We’re happy to be proved wrong, but we truly believe that this is the youngest first team to reach a Grand Final in any of the top regional leagues across the UK,” said Rockets chairman Jeff Ball.
“Our junior section has got a lot of attention in recent years and enjoyed a lot of success in terms of trophies and growth but we always wanted to do more with the open age set up.
“It is the pinnacle of the club and we want U8s looking at the first team and saying ‘I want that to be me’.”
An initial three-year plan was formed in late 2015 and after making some solid progress last year, Newcastle Thunder Academy coach, Dave Townend, was brought in this season to take things to the next level.
“Dave understood the vision and has values that complement the clubs” continued Ball.
“He was given free rein to build the support team he needed off the field and has really generated strong buy-in from the players.”
It’s been a real team effort, as shown by no less than 28 players crossing the white wash for the Rockets this season.
Tellingly, three quarters of those tries have come from the backline, reflecting the energy and fitness befitting a side so young.
“The players understand we need a platform before we can go and do the fancy stuff,” said Townend, busy making his preparations for the final on August 19.
“Empowerment is a big thing and Saturday’s win was down to the fact we asked the players to be honest with themselves after arguably our worst performance of the season the week before.
“Thankfully the soul searching paid off and we have now got a great opportunity. Whoever we play, we know it will be tough but given the talent in this squad its well within our grasp.”
Cramlington Rockets will play Wallsend Eagles or Jarrow Vikings in the Championship Grand Final at 3pm on August 19 at Monkton Stadium, Jarrow.
The match will be preceded by the Shield Final between Catterick Crusaders and Gateshead Storm.
For more information about Cramlington Rockets’ first team, email [email protected]