Vereniki Goneva will make his first Premiership start for Newcastle when they kick off the new season at home to Sale Sharks on Friday.
He forms part of an unchanged side from the one which won 26-21 at Edinburgh last Friday, as Newcastle completed an unbeaten pre-season.
Jon Welsh makes his first Premiership appearance since January’s home win over Bath, the Scotland prop is back to full fitness after toe surgery. He partners countryman Scott Lawson and Tongan international Taione Vea in an experienced front row – Canadian forward Evan Olmstead making his top-flight debut after scoring in all three of his pre-season outings.
Sinoti Sinoti starts on the left wing after overcoming a knee injury over the summer, former All Black Mike Delany partnering Tongan international Sonatane Takulua in the half-backs. Takulua’s Countryman Opeti Fonua is among Newcastle’s replacements after making a big impact on his debut at Murrayfield a week ago, ex-Jersey prop Sam Lockwood is in line for a debut from the bench after being named in the RFU Championship Team of the Season for the past two years.
Director of rugby Dean Richards said: “We have not had as many new signings as this time last year, and a couple of those who have come in have only done so in response to long-term injuries. Overall we have a much greater degree of stability within the squad, we have retained our core and everyone is working well together.
“Everybody here is in a good place and we haven’t lost a game yet. Confidence is high, we have a much better squad than last year and everyone is vying for selection. There is competition all over the place and we are chomping at the bit to get into the games.”
On the challenge posed by the Sharks, the Falcons boss said: “Sale beat us up here in the final game of last season, which really disappointed us.
“We have a bit of a point to prove because we felt we could and should have won that game. We knocked on twice going over the try-line, Sale took their chances and we fluffed a few of our own. We have learned from that day and feel like we are well set for the season. Everyone here is really excited about what is ahead for this team.
“You can say Sale have lost people like Tommy Taylor, Danny Cipriani and Tom Brady, but they have brought in good players like Rob Webber and AJ MacGinty. We know they are a strong side, they will come to play rugby and to take us on physically. We have a lot of respect for what they can offer but at the same time the belief in our own ability to challenge them.”
Meanwhile, Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond has included six players making their starting debuts for the club.
AJ MacGinty, Byron McGuigan, Halani Aulika, Mike Phillips, Laurence Pearce and Rob Webber all start, with Dan Mugford and Kieran Longbottom on the bench. Captain Josh Beaumont starts at blindside flanker.
He said: “Getting a good start in the Premiership is crucial to all 12 teams. We have to respect Newcastle as they will be looking for a win in front of their own fans.
“There are no easy games in the Premiership these days, but we’re confident heading to Kingston Park and starting our season off on a high.”
Form: Newcastle Falcons have not won on the opening weekend of a new Aviva Premiership season since Sale visited Kingston Park in 2007. The Tynesiders only victory in their last nine encounters in the competition was 13-6 at home to relegated London Irish on 17th April. Sale Sharks have been victorious just one in the last five season opening fixtures: 22-16 at Gloucester in 2013. The Sharks have won two of their last three away games in Aviva Premiership Rugby, at London Irish in round 19 and at Newcastle in round 22. Newcastle have not beaten Sale in Aviva Premiership Rugby since a 15-14 scoreline at AJ Bell Stadium in September 2013. Sharks have won on each of their last three visits to Kingston Park in Premiership Rugby.
Newcastle: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 6 Evan Olmstead, 5 Will Witty, 4 Calum Green, 3 Taione Vea, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Jon Welsh
Replacements: 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Sam Lockwood, 19 Opeti Fonua, 20 Callum Chick, 21 Sam Egerton, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Dominic Waldouck
Sale: 15 Byron McGuigan, 14 Will Addison, 13 Sam James, 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Nev Edwards, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Laurence Pearce, 7 TJ Ioane, 6 Josh Beaumont (c), 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Eifion Lewis-Roberts
Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 James Flynn, 18 Kieran Longbottom, 19 Jonathan Mills, 20 Magnus Lund, 21 David Seymour, 22 James Mitchell, 23 Dan Mugford
Date: Friday, September 2
Venue: Kingston Park
Kick-off: 20:00 BST (19:00 GMT)
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant Referees: John Meredith, Wayne Falla
TMO: Trevor Fisher