SOUTH Shields rugby star James Fitzpatrick is to leave Newcastle Falcons to sign for RFU Championship side Leeds Carnegie.
The 26-year-old is to join the Yorkshire club on loan this month before starting a two-year deal in time for the 2014-15 season.
Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards has left the door open for a future return for Fitzpatrick, but has decided to let him leave so he receives regular game-time.
Fitzpatrick started his career at Westoe RFC, and joined Newcastle in 2010 from Blaydon after showing impressive form.
The South Shields-born centre helped the Falcons to promotion from the Championship last season, and will hope to repeat that with Leeds this term.
With six league fixtures yet to play, Carnegie are second in the table, just five points behind leaders Bristol.
Fitzpatrick is closing in on a return to fitness after an ankle ligament injury, meaning he should be back in time to help Leeds’ promotion bid.
Also leaving Newcastle to join Leeds on a two-year deal is scrum-half Chris Pilgrim, although he is not expected to link up with his new side until the 2014-15 season.
Reflecting on the decision to let Fitzpatrick and Pilgrim leave, director of rugby Richards admitted he could not guarantee them first-team rugby. He said: “Chris and James are both talented individuals, and both need to be playing regular first-team rugby.
“Their move to Leeds is a great opportunity for that to happen, and I wish them all the very best for the future.
“It’s always sad to lose someone local like Fitzy, but we’ve spoken about the chances that he’ll get at Kingston Park and I sincerely hope it won’t be the end of his association with the club.”
Newcastle themselves will be looking for inspiration between now and the end of the season, with the Falcons second-bottom of the Aviva Premiership and without a league win since October.
They have shown good signs recently, though, and will hope to get a win when they travel to Gloucester on March 22.