Jimmy Gopperth waved farewell to a packed Kingston Park last week following promotion back to the Aviva Premiership.
The Kiwi fly-half, who moves to Leinster this summer after four years on Tyneside, bowed out in style kicking six penalties during the Falcons’ 31-24 play-off final second leg victory to secure his side’s place at English rugby’s top table.
Speaking to Sky Sports on the field post-match, the two-times Aviva Premiership Golden Boot winner addressed a bouncing Kingston Park.
He said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the fans. You have been absolutely fantastic to me, and I am definitely going to come back to the North East as I really love the place.
“It has been a tough year down in the Championship, but full credit to the boys for the effort they have put in.
“We came into the first game of the season with the intension of winning promotion back to the Premiership, and I thought we were outstanding throughout the year.
“This one is for all the fans in the North East and Cumbria – the support for rugby in the region is absolutely fantastic and our boys have worked so hard this season to get the club back to where it belongs in the Premiership.”
Explaining his decision to extend his stay at the Falcons despite relegation from the Premiership last season, Gopperth said: “I didn’t want to leave on a sour note after relegation, and I wanted to be part of the rebuilding process.
“People said I had taken a backward step but it wasn’t for me as it was a fantastic opportunity to be amongst a good group of players, and get ourselves back to where we belong and we have succeeded.”
The road back to The Promised Land has been a rocky one with the northeasterners taking in the sights of Jersey, Cornish Pirates and Plymouth Albion along the way.
Gopperth admits the Championship has been a testing competition, saying: “This Championship – they make it so hard to get out of and it is so tough.
“You go to places where you play on atrocious pitches and the changing rooms are like a box - it is a different lifestyle and to get through it is a credit to the guys.
“The unity within the club has been fantastic from the backroom staff to the players, and it all boils down to everyone working together towards one achievement.”
You can watch all the play-off celebrations as well as reaction on Falcons TV by clicking here.