RUGBY UNION - NEWCASTLE FALCONS- by Tom Shrimplin
Challenging for a place the top 4, plus the berth in the European Rugby Champions Cup and chance to take the Premiership title that comes with it, has been an unexpected but fantastic position for Newcastle Falcons to find themselves in this season.
After being relegated in the 2011-2012 season, Dean Richards (following his 3-year ban as a result of the Bloodgate incident) was appointed as Director of Rugby, bringing the Falcons back up on the first attempt, then securing the team’s place in the Premiership for several years before finishing eighth last season- their best finish in 11 years.
However, the side are still on the rise and look to go one better this season. The return of former England fly-half Toby Flood has bolstered an already strong side, featuring the likes of classy French international centre Maxime Mermoz, the rapid, match-winning wingers of Vereneki Goneva and Sinoti Sinoti and a strong pack including the likes of line-out master Calum Green and Will Welch.
Altogether their dominance in defence and set pieces sprinkled in with some moments of brilliance has led their great showing the Premiership.
Newcastle have also have had a couple of good cup runs this season, before being sadly knocked out in the semi-finals of the Anglo-Welsh Cup and Challenge Cup by Exeter and Gloucester respectively.
Nevertheless, in all it has been an excellent season for Richards’ long-running project, with a big jump in Newcastle Falcons’ fortunes and standard of rugby, following years of steady progress.
HANDBALL – VIKINGS - by Mark Sleightholm
Sitting somewhere between basketball and football, handball is immensely popular in continental Europe but has only recently attracted much attention in the UK. Newcastle has been at the forefront of this expansion thanks to the determination and the sporting success of the Vikings.[pullquote] Their competitive spirit reveals itself through a string of impressive results [/pullquote]
Newcastle students, often from countries with a strong handball tradition such as Norway or Germany, make up a sizeable portion of the Vikings' teams, but the sport has been growing in popularity across the UK in recent years. The Vikings were established six years ago when the nation basked in the golden presence of a British handball team at the London Olympics.
The women's team claim to play mostly for fun, but their competitive spirit reveals itself through a string of impressive results. An 18-13 defeat of Liverpool followed an 11-0 drubbing of Leeds University to guarantee the Vikings the Regional League North division title, their highest ever final placing in the English Handball League. A win in the promotion playoffs against teams from Loughborough University, Reading and Brighton would see them spend next season in the National division, level with the Vikings' men's team.
ICE HOCKEY – WHITLEY WARRIORS - by Nick Smith
Ice hockey is an incredible sport to watch, combining the aggression of rugby with the speed of basketball, and the atmosphere of the ice rink, with spectators much closer to the action than in many sports, is breathtaking.
The Whitley Warriors are the closest local side to Newcastle, since the Newcastle Vipers folded in 2011 after several years playing in the top division. The Warriors play one division lower, in the Northern division of the National Ice Hockey League.
Each team in the league plays each other twice at home, twice away in a season, and the Whitley Warriors have won exactly half of all their league matches this season, putting them in a mid-table finishing position.
They missed out on a run in the playoffs due to the bad weather earlier this year, but their progress in recent seasons is very encouraging and they're definitely a local team to keep an eye on.
BASKETBALL- NEWCASTLE EAGLES- by Courtney Strait
There is no doubt that the Newcastle Eagles have been the definition of “injury-plagued” this season. Despite this they have maintained an impressive never-say-die attitude and currently have a claim of second place in the BBL Championship standings. During the final leg of the season, though, the Eagles’ bad luck has continued. With playoffs starting soon the North East powerhouse will have to play without one of their key reserves, Jamal Williams, who is suspected to have a broken arm. He had surgery this week to repair the damage, but it looks as though the strong center will have to miss the rest of the season.[pullquote]Jaysean Paige, the BBL’s leading scorer, was also down with a bum ankle and is slowly making strides back to full form[/pullquote]
While Williams is out for the count, a few Eagles have repaired their broken wings and have returned to the court. Fabulous Flournoy, the Eagles’ veteran player-coach, has recently started playing again after a nagging ankle injury. Jaysean Paige, the BBL’s leading scorer, was also down with a bum ankle and is slowly making strides back to full form. Darius Defoe, who is instrumental for the Eagles’ rebounding efforts, has also made his way back to the starting lineup recently.
Though the Eagles have lost Williams, it looks as though they will have what it takes to make a final push in the postseason (as long as they stay healthy). Having played their final BBL Championship game yesterday (29 April), the Eagles should have taken care of the fifth-place Surrey Scorchers. Looking ahead the Eagles will play their first playoff game 4 May at Sport Central here in Newcastle.
FOOTBALL – SUNDERLAND- by Mark Sleightholm
After a decade in the top flight of English football the wheels have well and truly fallen off for the Mackems.
Chris Coleman may well continue as manager into League One, but he'll have a hard job rebuilding a team that's now chronically short of stars. Relegation last year was the culmination of several years of stagnation; to repeat the achievement this time round is astonishing. Sunderland have chomped their way through seven managers in the last five years, with none managing to reach even the 18-month mark since the heady days of Steve Bruce.
To fall from the Premier League to the third tier is by no means a death knell – Man City took the plunge in the late 90s and I hear they're doing alright these days. But the Black Cats' plummeting league performance has seen attendances follow suit, prompting the closure of the Stadium of Light's upper tier. The club's finances could certainly look healthier, and as much as Newcastle fans might delight in seeing their rivals humbled it'a always a shame to see a club with such a long and strong heritage fall so far. Not a great season for Sunderland, then, but at least now they can look forward to playing a side managed by Joey Barton.