World Cup: 100 days to Newcastle opener - and Josh Woods says city is loving rugby league
Former Wigan stand-off Josh Woods believes rugby league will continue to grow in Newcastle as the city prepares to host the opening game of the World Cup later this year.
Organisers today confirmed the tournament will go ahead as expected, which will be launched in 100 days' time in Newcastle.
Shaun Wane’s England kick things off against Samoa at St James’ Park – venue for September’s Magic Weekend – while Newcastle Thunder’s home ground, Kingston Park, will also be used for multiple games throughout the tournament.
Those games will bring the sport’s development in the region under sharper focus.
And Woods, who joined Newcastle Thunder at the end of last year, has seen first hand how rugby league is already growing in the north east – with the World Cup potentially increasing the sport’s profile.
He said: “Schools are buying in to what we are about, they love the sport.
“It is already massive in the city, so when we start doing well it will only grow.
“It’s a club with so many selling points, some of the plans are unbelievable and it’s a pleasure to be a part of.
“They’ve got a two-year plan in the Championship and all the building blocks are ready to go.”
The 23-year-old struggled for regular game-time at hometown club Wigan and is best remembered for his dramatic winning drop goal in a 13-12 victory against Warrington in 2018.
He, along with Jake Shorrocks, moved to Thunder - coached by ex-Warriors prop Eamon O’Carroll - after seeing the potential of the club.
“It’s probably one of the fastest growing teams in the country, so it was an opportunity I couldn’t really refuse,” said Woods.
“I could’ve gone and been a bit part player at a Super League club, but I wanted to be established and grow with a team. I hope to be here for a long time.”
The ties between the two clubs have been strengthened by recent loan spells of Sam Halsall and Mitch Clark to the Thunder, who are seventh in the Championship with five wins from 11 games.
“They made me feel at home as soon as I got here, it’s a pretty new bunch of players so everyone was really welcoming,” said Woods.
“It’s a really good bunch of lads and our team spirit is through the roof at the moment, so it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable six months.
“It wasn’t easy leaving Wigan because it’s been a great club for me and has been massive for my development. I loved every second, but the time came for both parties to move on.” One big change Woods has had to adapt to was going from being on a full-time contract to part-time one, as well as getting used to a new competition.
“You get a lot of things when you’re full time, but it’s been a really smooth transition,” he said.
“I’m enjoying the facilities here, and everything is in place at the club. It’s a really tough league, with places like Batley and Featherstone where the fans are on top of you.
“Some of the players are more than capable of mixing it with the big boys, so it’s never going to be easy for a new club like us coming into it, but we are developing all the time and getting better week by week.”
One thing that excites Woods most about being at Newcastle is the ‘ambition’ the club is showing.
“We’re not here to be a bit part in the Championship or to be a publicity stunt,” he added. “We’ve set targets and have showed that by signing players like Ukuma Ta’ai and making a bid for George Williams.
“I can’t wait to get on with the future and see where we can go.”