Leeds Rhinos chief executive on ‘very positive’ reaction to Magic Weekend move

LEEDS chief executive Gary Hetherington has given his backing to the decision to move next year’s Magic Weekend to the city’s Elland Road stadium on August 17/18.

The event has been moved away from Newcastle because St James’ Park isn’t available on that date, which is much later in the season than most previous versions of Magic Weekend.

The decision appears to have gone down badly with supporters, but Rhinos boss Hetherington believes the outlook might not be as bad as it appears, with tickets set to go on sale in the New Year for the event at the home of Leeds United.

“We have had interest from our sponsors and a demand for tickets that has come on to us pretty sharpish, with interest significantly ahead of what it has been in previous years,” Hetherington told League Express.

“The reaction we have had from our corporate fans and ordinary supporters has been very positive, which is understandable because the game will be held in our own city.

“I am one of those people disappointed not to be going to Newcastle. It’s an ideal venue for a festival of Rugby League action, but it wasn’t available and Leeds United are very supportive when it comes to hosting Rugby League events.

“It’s a challenge for the game to sell this festival of Rugby League and I would like to see us doing something we have not done before, which is selling out at least one day of Magic (Elland Road’s capacity is 37,890).

“We have always been 20,000 fans short of doing that but I’m encouraged by the early responses.”

Meanwhile Hetherington has given his backing to the RFL’s 44 recent recommendations, reported in last week’s League Express, that are intended to improve the safety of Rugby League.

“This is a hugely significant issue for the game, which we have never really had to tackle before,” he added.

“It’s only in the last 10 to 20 years that this issue has become topical. We have to address it thoroughly and I think we have. 

“The RFL and the experts they have used at Leeds Beckett University and Professor Ben Jones and Dr Chris Brookes have engaged with the medical profession. We have to be guided by the experts and the scientists.

“They fortunate thing is that they are steeped in Rugby League. They are not scientists who have no understanding of rugby. 

“They have a depth of knowledge and they have both worked at the coal face. It’s very important that we understand our product. We have to be guided by them. 

“The need to retain the physicality of rugby while eradicating tackles to the head is fundamental to our game going forward to become a safer game but also a better spectacle.

“The key to that success lies with our coaches. They have to coach defensive skills, bringing back some of the old-fashioned skills lost to the game and adopt creative tactics.

“The successful teams will adapt to the modified rules and provide a more attractive product.”