Sonatane Takulua believes unity and a collective purpose, combined with an improved playing pool, can help propel Newcastle Falcons up the Aviva Premiership table this season.
The Falcons’ eighth-placed finish was their highest league ranking in 11 seasons, Takulua among their star turns with six Premiership tries and a goal-kicking strike rate of 88%, the second-highest in the division based on a minimum of 20 attempts.
Having spent the summer helping Tonga secure their place at Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan the former Northland scrum-half is now back on Tyneside and gearing up for the Aviva Premiership kick-off at home to Worcester Warriors on Friday September 1.
“The big thing for me here at Newcastle is the culture,” said the 26-year-old, who was part of a contingent hosting a traditional Pacific Islands barbecue for Falcons players and club staff last week.
“It was already good, but it’s getting even better. The senior players are really helping the younger guys, we all help each other and it extends to off-the-field stuff as well. Everyone is close to each other here and the bond within the squad is really a stand-out feature.”
With summer signings including Fijian international centre Josh Matavesi, Yorkshire Carnegie captain Ryan Burrows, fly-half Toby Flood, Canada’s record try-scorer DTH van der Merwe and three-time French title winner Maxime Mermoz, expectations are high going into the campaign.
Takulua hopes to remain a key part of that, and can take considerable momentum from his international exploits during the Pacific Nations Cup.
“The summer tour for Tonga was very successful in terms of qualifying for the Rugby World Cup,” he said, having also featured prominently in their international against Wales in Auckland.
“We beat Samoa in our first game which kept us ahead of them, and even though we ended up losing to Fiji we still made it to the World Cup due to Fiji beating Samoa in the final round.
“It was also great for Tonga to be able to play a test match on home soil in Nuku’alofa for the first time in something like nine years, and the crowd really appreciated being able to watch their team. I had some of my family there so it was an emotional experience, and one I’ll always remember.
“It was a big relief to secure that World Cup spot for Japan 2019, and we now need to focus on the next step. Likewise with Newcastle, because we finished last season strongly and we’re working hard to make sure that continues through the start of 2017-18.
“We will try to continue that work and push it on another level, and when you look at the players we have there’s no reason why we can’t win even more games. Everyone is doing their job, we’re looking good as a group and there’s a massive excitement among the boys about the start of the Aviva Premiership.”
Newcastle Falcons’ next home game is this Saturday when they host Championship side Rotherham Titans in a 4.30pm kick-off at Kingston Park Stadium. Entry is free for season ticket members. Non-season ticket members can book for just £10 adults and £5 juniors by calling 0871 226 6060.