A ground-breaking joint rugby and education partnership that helped inspire Newcastle Thunder’s latest pro to success is being extended. Isaac Nokes made his first professional appearance in Thunder’s 24-16 Betfred Championship win at Kingston Park on Sunday, April 25.

Incredibly, he lined up alongside Alex Donaghy, who is also a former participant of the Rugby Excellence programme. The initiative is a collaboration between Thunder and rugby union side Newcastle Falcons – both part of Newcastle Rugby Ltd – and Tyne Metropolitan College (TyneMet).

Alex and Isaac also played for England Under-18s while working their way through the innovative two-year study programme. It aims to convert youngsters’ dreams into reality by developing their playing skills while helping them gain a professional sports qualification.

Now Newcastle Rugby and TyneMet have agreed to extend their partnership, which kicked off in 2016, for a further three years until at least 2024. Dozens of other players have embarked on the course, which leads to a NCFE Level Three Extended Diploma in Sport (Performance & Excellence) qualification – and further recruitment is ongoing.

There are now further aspirations to widen the Thunder-specific programme and start a Girls Rugby Academy across both league and union codes.

Mo Dixon, Principal of TyneMet, which is part of Tyne Coast College, said: “Our partnership with Newcastle Rugby has gone from strength, and I’m thrilled it is to carry on.

“The rugby programme we deliver together is the best there is and it really does have the potential to help young players to achieve their dreams, on or off the pitch.

“They gain first-class coaching from Newcastle’s professional coaching team and they also gain an important academic qualification.

“It’s great to know that Isaac has made his first team debut after coming up the through the programme and that both he and Alex played for England.

“While not everyone will reach those dizzy playing heights, this course definitely gives them the training and instruction to find their place in the world of sport.”

Mick Hogan of Newcastle Rugby Thunder and Newcastle Rugby Foundation said: “We’re delighted to extend the partnership with Tyne Met College and the Rugby Excellence programme here at Kingston Park Stadium. 
 
“The programme has welcomed many diligent students since it was launched and to have two more graduates make their first team debuts this season shows the quality of the players that it is playing a part in developing.
 
“Academically the course achieves outstanding results with many students going on to undertake university degrees. Education is first and foremost for the students and the high standards that are achieved are testament to the staff, environment, processes and the individuals themselves.

“Every single person who completes the course will become a better player. Not all will go on to become a professional rugby player but they will benefit from the outstanding facilities and coaching that the programme offers.”

Students, aged 16 to 19, gain top-level academic and sporting opportunities in a programme based at Kingston Park Stadium, the home of the Falcons and Thunder. They complete the NCFE sports programme either as part of the Thunder Super League Academy or the Falcons RU College Programme.

Those learning in combination with Thunder compete in the highest-level RFL Academy competition against teams including Wigan, Leeds Rhinos, Hull FC and St Helens. Participants train up to four times a week, and benefit from full physio, strength and conditioning and analysis support – with home matches played at Kingston Park Stadium. The Falcons’ programme operates at a level below the Falcons AASE Junior Academy and sees players train four times a week at Kingston Park. Players compete against colleges and sixth forms from across the North East.

The programme gives learners the skills, knowledge and understanding of rugby and the physical fitness industry. Students are coached by experts, gain media-training experience, benefit from post-match analysis and have access to a full-time physio. Course topics include sports coaching, fitness testing, anatomy and physiology, nutrition and sports psychology.
 
The qualification also provides access to numerous jobs in the sports sector – and for some a professional playing career. It also has an additional qualification, the Active IQ Level 2 Certificate in Gym Instructing. Active IQ provides learners with the knowledge and skills to plan, deliver and supervise safe and effective exercise programmes within a gym or health club environment.

Further information is available by contacting ben.pollock@tynecoast.ac.uk