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Free admission for Thunder coach's first game.

Byline: By Jeff Bowron

New Gateshead Thunder coach Seamus McCallion takes charge of the reformed Tynesiders for the first time tonight in an admission-free pre-season friendly against a North East Students XIII at the Thunderdome (7.30).

Former Ireland international McCallion took over from the departed Paul Fletcher during the close season and has been hit by the loss of a number of Thunder's key Yorkshire-based players. Scotland international and leading try scorer Damien Reid has joined influential prop Yusuf Sozi at National League Two rivals York City Knights.

Winger Richie Barnett has linked up with Super League outfit Hull FC for an intial pounds 4,000 while forward David Bates has moved to Halifax.

Four other Tykes won't be returning to the Thunderdome though six Yorkshire based players are currently training with Leeds Rhinos fitness conditioner Rob Wilson with a view to re-signing.

Only one of them, utility player Andy Walker, plays tonight in a new-look Thunder squad still short on experience.

"I'm hoping all the remaining Yorkshire players stay on board," said McCallion. "It's up to them but I won't chase players and they've got to want to play for Gateshead Thunder."

McCallion, a former Challenge Cup winner at Wembley with Halifax, will run the rule over eight prospective new signings tonight against the Northern regional students champions.

Craig Firth and Tony Doherty have both returned to the club after a brief spell in Australia, while Workington Town half-back or hooker Craig Fisher has also rejoined the Tynesiders.

Locally-produced forward Russell Hugill, originally with Gateshead's Super League club back in 1999, is another new face along with Great Britain Students prop Rob Line.

Hugill, however, misses out tonight due to a rib injury, while Australian hooker Janan Billings is doubtful with tonsilitis.

Thunder, who returned a small profit last season, hope to announce a new sponsor before the new Rugby League season begins on February 1.

JEFF BOWRON
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 17, 2003
Words:320
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