Toby Flood: Newcastle Falcons game at St James' Park a 'special opportunity'
Newcastle Falcons can make their visit to Newcastle United's St James' Park extra special by boosting their top-four hopes, says fly-half Toby Flood.
Falcons will stage Saturday's Premiership match against Northampton at the 52,000-capacity stadium, in the first of three games there until 2020.
Dean Richards' side are fourth in the table with five games left and three points ahead of fifth-placed Leicester.
"It's going to feel like a cup final," Flood, 32, told BBC Sport.
"It'll be the first time some of the lads have played in a stadium like this, with the bigger supporters amount, and it's an exciting prospect."
There is genuine belief the Falcons can fulfil the aims of bringing Champions Cup rugby to the north east, having moved into the Premiership play-off places and progressed to the knock-out phases of the European Challenge Cup.
In front of a record home crowd - about 25,000 tickets have been sold - Falcons can move a step closer to a long-awaited play-off spot by securing their 12th league win of the season.
"We've got 50 points with five or six games to go, to go and have a swing at it is pretty exciting," Flood added.
"That leads potentially into getting into that Champions Cup which is what every players wants and as a step forward for the club its part of the progression.
"There is no weight of expectation on us because it's the first time we've been here. The weight of expectation comes from us and the players around us, which is how all teams should function.
"They shouldn't be carrying the weight of expectation from supporters, from outside factors, not in a bad way because it's fantastic to have support but because we can only be accountable to ourselves.
"That for us is a lovely place to find ourselves in, we've got a free shot at this, 50 points, few games to go, let's go and get it."
Ball-boy to main man
Flood was brought up in nearby Morpeth and was taken to Newcastle United games as a boy by his father - where Kevin Keegan's star-studded teams provided excitement in the stands.
For Flood and other local lads such as Will Welch, Davey Wilson and Joel Hodgson, the opportunity to run out on the turf at St James' is especially significant.
"They were happy memories when I was a child, less so now," Flood joked. "That's the way football is. I remember the entertainers, being in the family enclosure pit, I was ball-boy here a few times when I was a kid.
"It's whole day out, it's part of the joy of bringing it here, get 20,000-plus people and the positive impact is the city benefits, we help the city out and ourselves. We're desperate to play here and it's a boyhood dream for a lot of us.
"It's iconic. For us to have the opportunity to play here is hugely exciting."
'The interest has been huge'
Director of rugby Richards has been involved in domestic and European finals as a coach with Leicester and Harlequins as well as numerous internationals and cup finals as a player, with a rich experience of big stadiums and big atmospheres.
However, this will be the first opportunity to take Falcons to a major stadium since guiding the club out of the Championship in his first season in charge in 2012-13.
"The opportunity to play in front of that kind of crowd doesn't come along every week, the more occasions like this the better," Richards added.
"The interest in the north east for the game is huge, and will grow year on year, we're dipping our toe in the water this year and we can own it better going into the next year."
There are parallels to the job Richards did on taking over at Quins earlier in his coaching career, where he took over a club relegated from the top-tier and produced year-on-year improvement which culminated in the Premiership title in 2012.
Falcons have not featured in Europe's premier competition since 2004-05 when they reached the quarter-finals before bowing out to Stade Francais and a return to the 'top table' represents a huge incentive.
"Should we win this weekend and results go our way we could climb the ladder a little bit more," Richards said. "If we do it makes it more realistic we could be in the Champions Cup rugby and of course possibly even into the play-offs.
"Although I never look at that, I just look at the game in isolation, it's how to win it."