League Express editor MARTYN SADLER suggests one way in which Super League could enhance the status of the Magic Weekend as we approach the weekend of the NRL’s version of the concept.
The Magic Weekend was an idea first floated by former RFL chief executive Nigel Wood some 17 years ago.
And it made its first appearance in front of a somewhat sceptical rugby league public when it was staged at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium in 2007, with the first match between Catalans Dragons and the then Harlequins kicking off at 3.00pm on Saturday 5th May that year, which was a Bank Holiday weekend.
Harlequins winger Andy Smith scored the first Magic Weekend try after two minutes, and the League Express reporter Gareth Walker opened his report of that match by paying tribute to the quality of the game.
“There were considerably more present that the few hundred some had feared, and those who had made the effort to attend Millennium Magic’s opening game were rewarded with the most entertaining clash of the first day,” he wrote.
“In the end, Harlequins edged a topsy-turvy match, ending a superb Catalans comeback with a controversial winning try.”
The inaugural event saw a young Ryan Hall making his debut for Leeds Rhinos, while other players who are still around include, inevitably, James Roby, Jordan Turner, Harrison Hansen, Brett Ferres, Paul Sykes and Ben Cockayne, while Bradford had a young Sam Burgess on the bench.
The attendance for the first day, which culminated with St Helens beating Wigan 34-18, was 32,384 and for the second day, which culminated with a highly controversial 42-38 victory for Leeds Rhinos against Bradford Bulls, it was 26,447, giving 58,831 in total.
Those figures were sufficient to encourage the RFL to continue with the experiment and on the opening weekend of July this year we will witness the fifteenth instalment of the Magic Weekend at what now appears to be its permanent home at Newcastle’s St James’ Park. It’s the fifteenth because the 2020 version fell victim to the Covid-19 pandemic.
For many years there was some uncertainty about whether the RFL and Super League would continue with the Magic Weekend and it’s fair to say that there are still some doubters.
But one sure sign of success arises when you notice that others are copying what you have pioneered.
The Magic Weekend is now a feature of the NRL, with the annual festival seemingly set fair for Brisbane every year in the month of May.
This weekend we will see the Broncos facing Manly on Friday, while the big game of the weekend will surely be Melbourne Storm facing Penrith Panthers on Saturday, in a game that kicks off at 10.45 British Summer Time. And such is the draw of that game that the event has sold out for the three matches on Saturday.
And the concept has also been copied in the southern hemisphere by the Super Rugby competition, which held its own version of the Magic Weekend for the first time in Melbourne in April, although, reluctant to be seen to copy Rugby League too closely, it labelled the innovation its ‘Super Round’.
Since 2007 in the UK, the Super League Magic Weekend has been held in five locations – Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool. And in that time the crowd figures have been broadly stable, ranging from a low of 52,043 at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield in 2010 to a high of 68,276 at Newcastle’s St James’ Park in 2016, although by 2021 that figure had fallen back to 60,866 at the same venue, no doubt with many people reluctant to attend because of the perceived threat from Covid.
Nonetheless, I would have hoped that by now the Magic Weekend would have been attracting near-capacity audiences, rather than the attendance being stagnant.
One suggestion I would make to give the event a higher profile would be to inaugurate a Magic Weekend Hall of Fame, which would be made up of the best player from each edition of the tournament, perhaps voted for by the supporters.
For example, the 2007 nominee would probably be Paul Wellens, who scored four tries against Wigan and it wouldn’t be too difficult to select the outstanding performers from all the succeeding Magic Weekends.
I’m sure there are other things that could be done to boost interest in the Magic Weekend.
But to have a distinct Magic Weekend Hall of Fame would provide a forum for continuing debate among supporters.
With the 2022 version now on the horizon, to be held on the 9th and 10th of July, who do you think would be the contenders for this season’s honour?
It would be great to see the winner being presented at the annual Steve Prescott Man of Steel awards evening.
This article is a modified version Martyn Sadler’s ‘Final Whistle’ column from the May edition of Rugby League World magazine, which is available by subscription only. You can take out a print or digital subscription by going to https://www.totalrl.com/rugby-league-world/