THIS has already been a landmark season for Newcastle Falcons, with the club standing on the verge of the Aviva Premiership play-offs after playing in front of more than 30,000 fans at St James’ Park. Tomorrow, though, an even more notable piece of history beckons.

If Falcons can see off Gloucester at Kingsholm, they will secure a place in the European Challenge Cup final against either Cardiff Blues or Pau in Bilbao on Friday, May 11.

It would be their first appearance in a European final, and would represent a fitting way to start a huge 12 months that will see Newcastle stage the final of both the Challenge Cup and European Champions Cup in 2019.

Once seen as something of a rugby outpost, the North-East is increasingly being viewed as one of the game’s most important growth regions, and a place in a European final would further strengthen the sense of momentum.

“It would be a great achievement for the club to reach our first ever European final, and we’re also right in that play-off mix in the Premiership,” said Falcons fly-half Joel Hodgson, an academy product who has made more than 100 appearances for the club. “The business end of the season sees us alive in multiple competitions, and that was always the vision that Dean Richards and Semore Kurdi had for the club when they first came on board.

“We’re slowly implementing that plan, it’s no surprise to us how well we have gone this season but it’s still new to a lot of us. It’s great to be a Newcastle lad playing for a Falcons team who are doing so well, and I’m lucky to have great players everywhere I look here.

“The progress we have made has been a huge collective effort, everyone understands and buys into the game plan, and it’s not just a one-man show. Everyone has their part, and if they do that (against Gloucester) we’ll have another victory to enjoy. If we handle the occasion correctly, I’ve no doubt we have what it takes.”

Hodgson has positive memories of Kingsholm, as his impressive goal-kicking performance was a key factor in Newcastle’s 21-20 win on the ground at the start of last month.

That was Falcons’ second successive victory in Gloucester’s backyard, and there is confidence that tomorrow’s game will result in a hat-trick of wins. Gloucester might boast a more prestigious European pedigree, but Newcastle will travel to the South-West with momentum on their side.

“Gloucester is a phenomenal place to go and play, and we enjoy it,” said Hodgson. “We’ve won our last couple there in the league, we have had some good battles there and we know we have to be on top of our game to put away a good Gloucester side.

“They’re going really well at the moment, scoring tries for fun and we certainly have to front up in defence. When we do get the ball we need to keep hold of it, be accurate in what we do, and it’s nice in games like this not to have to think about playing for bonus points or home advantage. It’s a straight shoot-out, you just need one more point than the opposition and that’s certainly our mind-set going into it.”

Hodgson’s form could once again be key, with the fly-half going into tonight’s game as the most accurate goal-kicker in this season’s Challenge Cup. He has landed all 12 of his shots at goal in the competition, which has seen Newcastle win all six of their group games before following up with a quarter-final victory over Brive.

European success has been accompanied by domestic dominance, with last weekend’s 35-30 win over Sale Sharks, which owed much to Hodgson’s late long-range penalty and last-minute conversion, cementing Falcons’ position in the top four.

“The Sale game had a bit of everything,” said the goal-kicker. “We started really well, stuck to the script and scored some good tries to go 25-0 up, but lapses of concentration on our part allowed them back into it. Fortunately, the boys showed enough resilience and determination to get back on track, our bench had a lot of impact and the energy we had late on proved to be just enough."

Falcons have announced the signing of Leicester Tigers prop Logovi’i Mulipola, with the Samoan set to line up at Kingston Park next season.