The latest ‘Pulling No Punches’, Garry Schofield’s exclusive column in League Express, saw the Rugby League Hall of Famer preview the Magic Weekend. Read Garry’s column every week in League Express, available in stores or online at totalrl.com/le
I can’t wait for the Magic Weekend on Saturday and Sunday.
Regular readers of my column will know that I’ve always supported the concept and that I’m a huge fan of Newcastle as the host city.
This is the tenth anniversary of Magic. It’s fair to say it got off to a slow start with the Cardiff and Edinburgh stadiums being too big. Moving to Manchester was a decent move, but it’s been at St James’s Park where the Magic Weekend has really taken off. It’s become one of my favourite weekends of the season and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the 2017 version has to offer.
WIDNES v WAKEFIELD
Widnes are a poor side who are destined for bottom or second bottom in the table, so I can’t see them competing with an in-form Wakefield team.
Coach Denis Betts doesn’t seem to know his best team. Defensively they’re terrible, which was obvious when they couldn’t defend a 20-point lead on their own midden against Hull recently.
They look like a club whose Super League days could soon be numbered and I’m not sure how they can turn this around.
Trinity are starting to shape up nicely though. We’ve always known they can turn it on when they feel like it, but they’re now putting things together on a consistent basis.
Liam Finn is their best player, getting them around the park superbly, and providing quality ball to the speedsters out wide. Scott Grix is also enjoying life at Wakey again, playing well at fullback.
They’re playing some very attractive Rugby League, similar in style to Castleford, but not quite as good.
I can’t see anything other than an easy Wakefield win. I think they’ll come up trumps by 24 points.
HULL v ST HELENS
St Helens were terrible at Castleford on Saturday in the Challenge Cup, no matter how well Cas played.
They’re a shambles right now and everyone can see it apart from the players, who seem to be looking for every excuse in the book.
They have no belief, according to Jon Wilkin, but even if they had, the reality is that they’re a terrible team with very little going for them with ball in hand or defensively.
They have a handful of decent players, but they’re not gelling and they don’t look like a team that’s going anywhere and they could struggle to get in the eight.
Hull, meanwhile, have really impressed me this year because of their ability to bounce back from a disappointing defeat. They’ve coped with adversity well in 2016 and that’s a promising sign.
They were magnificent against Catalans with Albert Kelly again catching the eye.
I can’t see Saints being able to handle him and I think Hull will win this with ease. I’ll predict a 34-point win.
WIGAN v WARRINGTON
Everyone keeps harping on about the Wigan injuries but Shaun Wane doesn’t use that as an excuse and he hasn’t lowered his expectations.
Wigan seem to enjoy the Magic Weekend and Wane will be demanding a win, no matter which 17 players take to the field.
Warrington are steadily climbing the table and a win against Wigan should take them out of the bottom four for the first time, which will be a big carrot. They will be aiming for the top four, and if they are to realise that then this will be a big two points for them.
On paper, you’d have to say the Wolves will win, but I don’t think it will be as easy as people are suggesting. They’re playing how Warrington should play, with some easy-on-the-eye stuff, but they’re still coming up with daft errors.
The forwards need to take a leaf out of Chris Hill’s book and hit the good performance levels every week.
Nevertheless, they’ll just about have too much for Wigan and I expect them to win by 10.
CATALANS v HUDDERSFIELD
Could this be the most boring game of the weekend – or even the season?
Quite possibly! Catalans are shot, as their performance in Hull suggests, and so I expect them to do nothing more than go back to just trying to do the basics right.
They’re such a disappointing team and the players are letting the fans and the coach down.
Do they even turn up with the right attitude when they cross the Channel? I don’t think they do.
Losing by that sort of margin against Hull is an absolute disgrace. They need to sort themselves out quickly.
The Giants aren’t the most attractive side – and that’s putting it mildly. They will be without the suspended Danny Brough, so they’ll look to grind the Dragons down.
I expect Huddersfield to win by around eight points. But don’t expect to be entertained and don’t be surprised if you nod off at some point!
LEIGH v SALFORD
This one will be very interesting! It’s a derby and it’s the Centurions’ first taste of the Magic Weekend.
Leigh need to kick-start their season and where better to do that than up in Newcastle? The week off will have benefitted Leigh and hopefully they’ll have talked about their shocking lack of discipline, which is in danger of ruining their season.
They can play nice football when they want. They attack and support well, so they’ll give Salford a game if they keep their heads.
But Ian Watson’s side are a top team these days, with quality running right through the side. I like everything about them.
They were struggling against a Hull Kingston Rovers side hell-bent on revenge in the Challenge Cup, but they found a way to get back into the game.
The halves are playing very well although it’s hard to find anybody that isn’t. I think they’ll continue their great form and win by 16.
CASTLEFORD v LEEDS
This is the big one!
The clash between Castleford and Leeds, which finishes off the Magic Weekend, could well be absolutely mouthwatering. We’ll all be waiting throughout the whole weekend for this game to start.
The Tigers absolutely embarrassed Leeds at the start of the season and it’ll be great to see how they respond, because this is their big chance for revenge. The Rhinos won’t have forgotten and I reckon they’ll be well up for putting the record straight.
Castleford are a sensational team so, when you throw all that into the mix, we could be in for a fantastic game.
It could be a high-scoring game. But no matter how fired up Leeds are, I feel that Castleford will just have too much. What they did to Saints was sublime. They are a team with everyone firing, in particular Luke Gale, who is pulling all the strings.
My big hope for the season is that they can keep this going for the rest of the year. They’ve come through a bit of a blip and I don’t think Leeds will quite have enough to derail them. I’ll go for a Castleford win by seven points.