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REAL NRL: Development key to Seagulls’ success, says Bourke

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Ian Bourke is hoping the success of the Newcastle Knights’ NRLW side filters through to his Lakes United Seagulls in 2023.

The man simply known as “Bubba” was an assistant, along with Mark Wilton, in the off-season to Ron Griffiths, who guided the women’s squad to its first premiership last October.

The girls’ historic triumph echoed through the streets of the Hunter, with Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes presenting them with the Key to the City at a civic function.

“I’d love to bring the energy from that to Lakes United,” the well-respected coach said.

“I suppose those community values that Ronny instilled in the ladies was needed at Newcastle.

“And, I think the Seagulls are a mini-version of the Knights.

“Our community expects our young players to be looked after, developed and, hopefully, progress from the juniors through to first grade.

“That’s what we want to emulate.

“It can be difficult at times… and challenging.

“But, it’s rewarding to see so many young guys get an opportunity in the firsts.

“Obviously, we’ve secured a few signings in key positions, too, to make us more competitive this year.”

Although Lakes United never reached the heights it sought in the 2022 Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) competition, Bourke was pleased with the club’s progress after a couple of difficult COVID-impacted seasons.

“Personally, if you looked at it from outside the inner sanctum, I think people would have noticed some improvement,” he said.

“We were definitely more competitive in games.

“However, the most rewarding factor is developing from within… and I believe that’s what NSWRL is trying to achieve with the points system we’re now under.

“The salary cap is still questionable at times with some clubs.

“However, at the end of the day, we need to focus on ourselves and continue that development pathway from our sub-juniors – Valentine, Windale, Belmont North and Swansea – all the way through to the Seagulls’ juniors and seniors.

“All-in-all, I think 2022 was an improvement on the previous year.

“Hopefully, we can take it a step further.

“Our ultimate vision is making sure Lakes United is a sustainable and successful club again.”

Bourke said “everything was coming together” after a shaking beginning to the pre-season.

“At the start, it was a bit concerning… everyone just dips their toe in the water in November,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“It’s probably too early for part-time footballers.

“But, we’re attracting great numbers to training, it’s impressive.

“We’ve also got a lot of young blokes in the Knights’ system at the moment with the Andrew Johns Cup, Laurie Daley Cup, Jersey Flegg and NSW Cup.

“So, you need to take that into account, too.

“Meanwhile, our open women’s side is entering A grade in 2023, which is another positive for our club.

“Overall, I’m happy with where we’re at.

“We are training hard, however so does everyone else at this time of year.

“And, we’ll be sitting on top of the ladder, thanks to a bye in round one,” he added with a laugh.

“Then we face defending premiers Maitland, which will be a tough ask.

“It’s going to be a good challenge for our young guys, and our new squad, to see where we’re placed.”

Bourke’s not ruling out a play-off berth either… as the Real NRL kick-off looms.

“Everyone’s goal is to make the semis,” he said.

“Then it’s a new season from there.

“I just want to witness improvement.

“If we reach the play-offs, I’ll feel like we’ve come along in leaps and bounds.

“It isn’t out of the question, especially if we stay healthy – we’ve got a good spine, we boast the nucleus of a good side, and we’ve got good depth.

“We’re missing a few key areas, however we’re all about giving youngsters an opportunity.

“So, we’ll see how we fare.”

Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League

Denton Engineering Cup round one

Saturday 24 March

  • 3pm: Wyong Roos v The Entrance Tigers (Morry Breen Oval)

Sunday 25 March

  • 3pm: Cessnock Goannas v South Newcastle Lions (Baddeley Park)
  • 3pm: Kurri Kurri Bulldogs v Maitland Pickers (Kurri Kurri Sportsground)
  • 3pm: Central Newcastle Butcher Boys v Macquarie Scorpions (St John Oval)
  • 3pm: Northern Hawks v Western Suburbs Rosellas (Tomaree Sportsground)
  • Bye: Lakes United Seagulls

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