Bustling back-rower Simon Uzokwe says a full-time focus on rugby will see benefits for him and his Newcastle Falcons team over the course of the coming season.
The 24-year-old England Students forward is just one re-sit away from completing his pharmacy degree at Sunderland University, and has been training the house down during the Falcons’ elongated pre-season schedule.
“I’m the fittest I’ve ever been, and a lot of the boys are feeling that way,” said the Manchester-born flanker, who was raised in Ipswich.
“We’re into our second block of pre-season now so we’re more into the rugby aspect of it, but the boys are really fit and just looking to fly into things.
“The difference for me this year has been that I’ve really hit the ground running.
“I’ve been in during the off-season, Grant Beasley from our strength and conditioning team gave me a programme for during the summer and then with the off-season being a bit longer this year due to the World Cup I think it’s just a case of a few things coming together.
“The S&C stuff has been a really big focus for me this summer, and once I’ve started getting on top of that I’ve found that the rugby side of things has also come on for me.”
Able to give rugby his undivided attention, Uzokwe explained: “I studied pharmacy at Sunderland University, which I really enjoyed.
“With combining it with rugby I took an extra year to complete the degree, meaning a total of five years. I actually have one re-sit still to go in the next couple of weeks before I can officially box it off, but it’ll be great to have the degree behind me once it’s all finalised.
“It’s huge for me now just being able to devote my complete attention to being a professional rugby player.
“Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great for people to have outside interests and to back themselves up with qualifications, but I’m now able to live in Newcastle and not have to worry about exams or assignments at the same time as preparing for games. I’m just totally focused now on being a rugby player, and it’s a fresh start for me.”
On the theme of new opportunities Uzokwe is also refusing to be swept away with any negativity surrounding last season’s relegation, choosing to see the 2019-20 campaign as a new dawn.
“Nobody’s dwelling on last year because we all know what happened - we’re just taking this season as a fresh start," he said.
“I’ve never played in the Championship before, hopefully this season offers a chance for some of the younger boys to get involved and with the fact I’m now able to train full-time the hope is that I’m able to get my name in the mix.
“We’ve got a lot of good players so I’m not expecting it to just happen, there’s a lot of hard work involved and that’s what I’m on with doing now.”
Adamant that the club will work on improving rather than replacing their entire playbook, he added: “A lot of what we’re doing is a continuation from last season because we showed the year before what a good team we can be, but it’s just fine-tuning the elements which didn’t quite fire as we’d wanted them to.
“Obviously we’ll be introducing some new bits and pieces and making best use of the players who have come into the club, but the continuity has been good because you’re basically at a starting point where the boys already know what they’re doing.”
Keen to get into some games, Uzokwe added: “With the World Cup being on this year it’s a long old summer, but the coaches have been doing everything they can to keep the boys fresh.
“We’ve been taken off-site for a few things like kayaking and beach sessions, and there have been a couple of meals and team socials chucked in. That keeps you mentally fresh, but going into the last month of pre-season now the boys are aware we’re pretty much there, and are raring to go.”
Season ticket memberships for the 2019-20 season are on sale now, with the 14-game package starting from just £138 for adults. Free and discounted junior season tickets are among the many benefits of season ticket membership, which also includes 10% off in the club shop all season. To book, or for more information, please click here.