Conrad Cade proves it's never too late

Tuesday 8 February 2022

Late bloomers are a more common occurrence in professional sport than many might think, with prop-forward Conrad Cade the latest to benefit from Newcastle Falcons’ associate academy programme.

The 25-year-old made his first team debut against Gloucester earlier this month and was on the bench for Saturday’s trip to Bristol Bears, with the Co. Durham native insisting it’s never too late to make your Gallagher Premiership breakthrough.

“It was good to finally get out there,” said Cade, the loose-head prop whose rugby rise has seen him playing for Durham City juniors, Durham County, Leeds Beckett University and more recently on loan at Championship side, Doncaster Knights.

“I’ve been working towards my first team debut for the Falcons for a couple of years now since I’ve been involved with the club, and I really enjoyed it. Hopefully I can carry on and try to keep improving, but it was great to get on the pitch and just get a taste of it.

“The experience was good, getting on in a Premiership game in front of a decent crowd when I first came on against Gloucester, and I enjoyed the whole thing.

“I’m just looking to build on it now and working to make sure that I can have further involvements. If I can get some more minutes on the field I’ll have the opportunity to show more of what I can do, and that’s what I’m focusing on at the moment.”

Explaining his elongated route into the Premiership, Cade said: “I came in via the associate academy route, which is probably something that a lot of people on the outside don’t know too much about.

“It’s basically for guys who aren’t formally contracted to the club’s senior academy or aren’t in that traditional academy structure, so the Falcons do a lot of work with local clubs and universities to identify suitable players.

“In most cases it tends to involve coming in and playing a few A-League games so they can have a look at you, although obviously since Covid those games have been pretty much knocked on the head. But it’s basically an avenue whereby people who haven’t been on that typical academy ladder can just get a foot in the door.

“Some people just develop later, or maybe put more emphasis on their education or other sports, and so they miss out on that initial academy inclusion. Trevor Davison would be a great example of that, who has obviously gone on to play for England, and in my own case I think I was just a bit of a late developer. The Falcons saw how I was getting on at Leeds Beckett, I came in and played some A-Team games on the back of that, and then once my studies were finished they offered me a senior academy contract.

“I think it’s great that the Falcons have this scheme, and that they’re so open to guys from different backgrounds. I was in my 20s before I even had any involvement with the club, and I guess it’s just a message to people that the door is never closed.”

Cade’s unmistakeable North East tones give further homegrown flavour to a Falcons squad with a high degree of local talent, even if he had to pop ‘down south’ to Yorkshire for his studies.

“I’m from Durham, so I started at Durham City rugby club and played all my junior rugby there,” he said.

“I played county stuff for Durham, and then moved to Leeds Beckett University to study sports coaching before doing a masters in strength and conditioning. I finished those studies two years ago, so this is my second season as a full-time professional with the Falcons.

“I’ve also spent a lot of time out on loan at Doncaster Knights in the Championship – most of last season and the first half of this season, and that’s gone well.

“I feel like I learnt a lot out of it, I got some good game time and really developed as a result of that. I’ll look to be bringing the benefits of that back to Newcastle, and Doncaster are a good team. They’ve got a nice set-up down there which was great to be part of, and ultimately getting game time is the way you’re going to learn and improve as a player.”

Asked to pin-point the strengths of his own game and his hopes for the rest of the campaign, it was with typical understatement that Cade responded.

“Any prop will tell you that scrummaging is a big part of their game, and then obviously as well as the nuts and bolts of the set-piece it’s just having a high work-rate around the field and making what impact I can,” he said.

“I just hope I can stay involved with the first team, being in and around selection, and then obviously trying to play well when I do get those opportunities. Other than that it’s just working hard every day in training, taking feedback on board and looking to learn from the players and coaches around me.”

Newcastle Falcons’ next home game is on Sunday February 20 when Exeter Chiefs visit Kingston Park Stadium. Click here to buy tickets.

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