Mid-way through the 1998 season, Gateshead was granted a franchise in the Super League ahead of Swansea and Cardiff. A competition was held to determine the name for this club, and Gateshead Thunder was born with Shaun McRae as Head Coach.
Despite problems in attracting fans to a new summer sport, by the end of the season the average gate had risen to 3,895. Gateshead finished in sixth place – just two points outside the play-offs, beating St Helens home and away and Wigan on the road in Edinburgh at Tynecastle. Matt Daylight was the joint leading try scorer in Super League and winger Ian Herron was one of the deadliest goal-kickers in the topflight.
In November 1998, Gateshead Thunder’s board announced the club would merge with Hull Sharks. The Association of Premiership Clubs blocked proposals for the newly merged company to enter a separate Hull-based team in the Northern Ford Premiership and so the new club would be called Hull and play all its home games in Hull. This was widely seen as a takeover to allow Hull to remain in Super League.
The fans of the Gateshead club set up a campaigning organisation, Thunder Storm, to fight the ‘merger’. Although unsuccessful, it was the catalyst for a new Gateshead Thunder to be formed. The new Gateshead Thunder was accepted back to play in the Northern Ford Premiership on the 2nd August 2000, with a similar bid from Bramley being rejected. The new board had the stated objective of winning back Gateshead’s place in Super League within five years.