IN a sad day for the sport of rugby league, Newcastle Thunder have folded.

Bradford Bulls’ traditional opponents for the Magic Weekend curtain raiser up in the North-East, the side struggled badly in the Championship last season, winning just five games on their way to relegation.

Having dropped into League 1 alongside Bulls’ neighbours Keighley Cougars, they have decided it is unsustainable to carry on.

And while there is hope the club can carry on in future in some guise, possibly by relocating, that would require new investment, of which there is no guarantee.

The decision provisionally leaves just eight teams competing in League 1 next season, with the RFL confirming they will now hold discussions with those clubs to consider the impact Newcastle's withdrawal will have on the third tier for 2024.

One of those is Hunslet, who are proposing a merged Championship and League 1 division, split into two conferences, though they allege many second-tier clubs have no interest in this proposal.

Newcastle were a second-tier club themselves until last month, but in a club statement this morning, they wrote: “Following the official confirmation that Newcastle Thunder has been relegated from the Betfred Championship this season, Newcastle Thunder Ltd has made the difficult decision not to participate in next season’s competition.

It is with great sadness that we make this announcement.

“Growing rugby league in the North East was an incredible journey, and we are all devastated that it did not work out.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: It was only a year or so ago that Newcastle destroyed Bulls 53-10 at Kingston Park.It was only a year or so ago that Newcastle destroyed Bulls 53-10 at Kingston Park. (Image: Tom Pearson.)

“Unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19, combined with the low levels of regional growth and development in the game, means it just isn’t feasible to continue.

“We will be fulfilling all our player and staff contracts and will do our best to support them in finding new positions where possible.

“The time all our staff and players have put into the club reflects how much we have invested in Newcastle Thunder and is a testament to the hard work they’ve carried out.

“The Board at Newcastle Thunder would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to our dedicated current and former staff, players, coaches, volunteers, and generous sponsors.

“Their unwavering support has been instrumental in sustaining our competitiveness throughout the years.

“We would like to thank our devoted fans, whose loyalty has been an incredible source of motivation over time.

“This was not the decision we wanted to make, and we remain hopeful that we can find a new home for the team. 

“No further statements will be given at this time.”

The demise of Thunder comes less than three years after their impressive growth led to the RFL elevating them into the Championship following the Covid-curtailed 2020 season.

They even turned full-time ahead of the 2022 season, before reverting back to part-time status a year later.

Newcastle also had an elite academy licence up until 2027, with only they, Bulls and London Broncos having that badge of honour outside of Super League.

The likes of Sam Hallas and Brad Gallagher left Bulls to join the ambitious North-Easterners, while the incoming Bradford head coach, Eamon O’Carroll, was in charge there for nearly two years.

But for now, the club founded in 1999, as Gateshead Thunder, are no more.