Destiny of out-of-contract Falcons becoming clearer; TRY TIME Rugby talk.
THERE might be two games left of the Aviva Premiership season, but an understandable eye is already being cast towards the next campaign from Newcastle Falcons and their followers.
Not that they will allow clashes with Sale Sharks and Harlequins to pass idly by, judging by the level of commitment on show during their frenetic 42-40 reverse at Gloucester last weekend.
The topic of transfers and the destiny of out-of-contract players can lead to an element of smoke and mirrors, and some rather mixed messages.
As a journalist who trades in such tales I am certainly making no attempt to claim the moral high ground, and the picture is finally becoming a little clearer for a few of the Falcons whose current deals are up in June.
Firstly, cross-code convert Lee Smith has already left the club.
The Yorkshireman is in Australia in a bid to continue his rugby union journey, Falcons' director of rugby Dean Richards confirming to me that Smith had asked to be released from the remaining three months of his contract.
Having failed to make a single Premiership appearance this season it comes as no major surprise, though I had been impressed by his contribution in the cups.
Smith's 50-metre penalty helped secure a memorable win at Newport Gwent Dragons en route to the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals, and some of his support running lines created try-scoring opportunities for himself and others.
Newcastle's move to a synthetic field and their targeted recruitment of lighter, nimbler players has perhaps worked against the former England rugby league cap, but there was enough in his rugby union repertoire to suggest he should stick with the 15-man code.
The other of this week's confirmed departures was fly-half Phil Godman, the former Scotland international returning to his homeland at the age of 32. Godman will become head of rugby and elite sports development at Dundee High School, having made just three Premiership appearances this term.
The fate of his fellow No 10 Rory Clegg seems less clear, though I can categorically deny the widespread speculation that he has signed for Championship new-boys Ealing.
Kicking eight from eight on Saturday and running the Newcastle back line with renewed focus over the past fortnight, I wouldn't entirely rule out the possibility of the club giving the former England Saxon another crack at Kingston Park. Richards certainly took time to highlight his efforts but, either way, a talent which seemed in grave danger of fizzling out has at least shown it is still there.
Finally, there was some welcome good news regarding the Falcons' stand-out performer, Sinoti Sinoti.
The 29-year-old has unbelievably only been capped twice by Samoa, the Pacific island ignoring him since November 2013 despite tearing Premiership defences apart for the past 18 months.
That exclusion is now at an end, Sinoti one of four Falcons players named in Samoa's 58-man training squad.
BONUS POINT MORPETH RFC bounced straight back into North One East, beating Yorkshire equivalents Malton & Norton 14-11 in their promotion play-off.
SIN BIN CHRIS Hala'ufia had a day to forget on Saturday, firstly after tackling a streaker in their 38-17 Premiership loss at Leicester. The serial offender was then red-carded for a shocking tackle on Laurence Pearce, after which he banged his head on the ground.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK "PEOPLE who don't respect the County Cup are foolish. Secretly, I believe they would all love a good cup run."
West Hartlepool coach Iain Dixon ahead of last night's Durham County Cup final.
GAME OF THE WEEK THE eyes of the rugby world will be on Twickenham on Saturday when French giants Toulon and Clermont contest the inaugural final of the European Champions Cup.
Lee Smith has left Newcastle Falcons after failing to appear in the Premiership