This article will cover two cities in the northern hemisphere that have both rugby league and union teams. One city has both professional rugby league and union, while the other one has a professional rugby league team and until recently a professional rugby union team.
Both cities are in the north. One had both a professional rugby league and union team in the first-tier in the previous decade, while the other aims to accomplish that.
Northern hemisphere: Cities with both codes of rugby
Leeds has a professional rugby league team and until very recently a professional rugby union team. The Leeds Rhinos, their rugby league team, is one of the most decorated teams in the northern hemisphere. Yorkshire Carnegie has also found success in their history as they were in the English Premiership in 2011. Both Carnegie and the Rhinos play at Headingley Stadium.
The Rhinos, who were founded in 1870, have won 11 championships, 13 Challenge Cups, and three World Club Challenges. This includes winning four Championships, two Challenge Cups, and one World Club Challenge in the last decade. The Rhinos average attendance was 11,838 fans per game in the 2019 Super League season.
Some of the best players in Super League history have come from the Rhinos. This includes players like Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield. Lastly, former Leeds Rhinos head coach Brian McDermott also played a role in the Rhinos’ success in the last decade.
Their rugby union team, the Yorkshire Carnegie (founded in 1991 as Headingley RFC) have not been in the Premiership since 2011 (when they were known as Leeds Carnegie). Unfortunately, that will remain the case for the near future. In the 2019-20 RFU Season, the Carnegie was relegated to the third-tier National League 1 from the Championship. This is what RFU president Peter Wheeler said about the announcement:
“With 80 per cent of the season complete for the community game, we believe our approach is fair and the right one for our leagues.”
In the Carnegie case, relegation was inevitable. They lost all 13 games in the 2019-20 RFU season. A big reason for their poor performance in the 2019-20 RFU season was becoming a part-time team. Last year, Carnegie had decided to have a part-time team, as they were unable to sustain player salaries.
This might have also played a part in the attendance decline between the 2018-19 RFU and the 2019-20 RFU season. The Yorkshire Carnegie average attendance was 1,460 fans per game in the 2018-19 RFU season. Their attendance went down in the 2019-20 RFU season, which was 776 fans per game. Hopefully, they can pick themselves up and become a professional rugby union team again.
Looking at the attendance of both teams, it is clear that the Leeds Rhinos team is more popular even when the Yorkshire Carnegie was a full-time team. Northern England is a rugby league hotbed, and that is no different from Leeds.
This city has both a professional rugby league and union team. The Newcastle Falcons, their professional rugby union team, achieved Premiership status at the conclusion of the 2019-20 RFU Championship season. They also have a professional rugby league team called the Newcastle Thunder that was founded in 1999. Both rugby teams currently play at Kingston Park.
Gateshead, a town close to Newcastle had a team called the Gateshead Thunder. They finished sixth in their lone 1999 Super League season. However, the Thunder would merge with the Hull Sharks to become Hull F.C. They would form another team with the same name shortly after (renamed Newcastle Thunder in 2015).
Thunder won Division 3/League 1 in 2008, and also won the League 1 Shield in 2016.
Wigan legend Denis Betts has a vision for Newcastle to be in Super League.
“There’s an excitement that something could click and the right people get involved, with some luck and hard work it could turn into something special. I’d like to see Newcastle in Super League.”
This follows Newcastle’s ambitious goal to become Super League champions by 2030 according to Phil Wilkinson of thunderrugby.co.uk. In 2018, they were averaging over 1,000 fans according to thunderrugby.co.uk. This is a 29% increase in attendance compared to the previous year.
General Manager Jordan Robinson said: “To be averaging over 1,000 fans at our home games is a big marker for the club that shows real progression that comes from a combination of hard work from all the staff and our ever improving involvement with local clubs.”
⚡️ "It is an exciting time for rugby league in the north east."
— Love Rugby League (@loverugbyleague) October 28, 2019
It is important to note that Newcastle Thunder is still in the third-tier of League 1 right now. They’re currently third in League 1 with two wins. The top two teams are Hunslet and the Barrow Raiders. They both have a perfect record with two wins and zero losses and have the best points differential in the league right now.
They will need to get into the Championship before reaching Super League. However, the ambition is there and the Thunder are hoping to make professional rugby league popular in Newcastle.
The Newcastle Falcons is an old rugby union team founded in 1877. They had 15 wins in 15 games in the 2019-20 RFU season. The Falcons were promoted based on the “best playing record formula” according to BBC Sport.
This was because the Falcons season was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Their average attendance was 4,707 fans per game that season. This is more than fans per game compared to the Newcastle Thunder. However, it is important to note that the Newcastle Thunder’s attendance will increase. This is especially true if and when they get to the Championship and Super League.
The Falcons have won one English Premiership in 1998 and two Anglo-Welsh Cups.
Overview of Leeds and Newcastle’s Northern Hemisphere Teams
Leeds and Newcastle are on opposite spectrums. The Thunder seemed to have a plan to go up to Super League and Carnegie has been demoted to the third-tier for the first time in the last 10 years. However, reality may be different. Thunder still needs to go to the Championship before going into Super League. Lastly, Carnegie could still find their former glory if a new investor comes to help them.
Furthermore, there are three northern hemisphere cities ahead of Newcastle, which have a tier-one rugby team in both league and union. Lastly, there are also two cities with a first-tier rugby league and union team right now in the northern hemisphere and five in the southern hemisphere. With the Thunder in the third-tier, it will take time for Newcastle to achieve Super League glory.
Looking at the bright side, the Rhinos and Falcons are in a good position. After struggling for a few seasons, Leeds Rhinos are now currently third in Super League. Furthermore, the Newcastle Falcons have just been promoted to the Premiership and can make their mark on England’s top-tier rugby union league. Both of these teams are in excellent standing as of right now.
“Main photo credit”