TYNEDALE No 8 Ollie Stedman has swapped his day job at a cap shop for a return to professional rugby, earning a dream move to Newcastle Falcons.
The 21-year-old has scored nine tries this season for a Tynedale side which has struggled towards the wrong end of the National One table, and now comes into contention for a Falcons debut at Cross Keys on Friday.
“It is really good to be making the step up, and to be back into full-time rugby,” said the former England Under-20s international, who played in the Premiership with Leeds Carnegie three years ago.
“Getting properly into shape and being back on the big stage are both exciting and demanding prospects which will require a lot of hard work, but my intention is to do that and to really take the opportunity I have now.”
Playing his junior rugby with Percy Park and studying at King’s School Tynemouth and Durham School, the goal-kicking back-rower signed for Leeds as a 16-year-old after breaking through to the England age-group sides.
Captaining their A-League team and earning a handful of senior appearances, the Yorkshire club’s relegation saw Stedman returning to his native North East with Westoe before heading to Australia for a stint with play-off finalists Southern Districts.
A double-quad tear cut short his season Down Under, but the fit-again No 8 regained top form for Tynedale this season by becoming their top try-scorer.
Now keen to kick on and regain the required fitness levels, he said: “Catching up to the rest of the squad will take some time, but it will be a good challenge and a lot of fun.
“I have been selling caps at my mate’s shop, Capology on Dean Street, so it is a bit of a culture shock to go from that into full-time training. It has been tough to take a bit of a beasting in my first few days, but I am getting my head down and just putting the work in to get to where I need to be. It beats selling caps any day!”
Potentially returning to Tynedale should minutes on the field prove hard to come by at Kingston Park, Stedman said: “Tynedale have been absolutely brilliant.
“They are a real traditional old-school club with a really good culture and ethos, the lads in the squad are great and they like to play a very positive brand of rugby.
“Ultimately I think they will succeed with the talent they have there, and although I am not registered for Tynedale at the moment, the Falcons have said I could go back there to get some game time if needs be.
“We will just have to wait and see how that develops, but it is a great opportunity I have now and I am determined to give it my best shot.
“For an aspiring No 8 to come and play under Dean Richards is just an absolute no-brainer. If he can teach me even half of what he knows then I will come on a heck of a lot, and it is just about learning what I can every single day I am here.”
One player heading out of Kingston Park, for the time being at least, is Michael Mayhew, the Kiwi hooker having agreed a short-term loan deal with London Irish.
The former North Harbour man has been a fringe figure for much of the Falcons’ season, and will make a quick-fire starting debut for the Exiles against Worcester tomorrow in an LV= Cup encounter which has beaten the weather.
Meanwhile, the Falcons’ Championship trip to Leeds Carnegie on Sunday, February 10 has been moved to Otley RFC, with the recently-laid Headingley pitch not deemed ready for match action.
Kick-off in the re-scheduled game will be at 12noon, with previously-purchased match tickets still valid.