Talking Rugby League: A Magic Spectacular

Talking Rugby League with League Express editor Martyn Sadler

A total of 60,866 supporters attended the Magic Weekend at St James’ Park in Newcastle – 35,104 on Saturday, and 25,762 on Sunday.

That is around 4,000 higher than attended the event when it was held in Liverpool in 2019 and it is around 4,000 down on the attendance in 2018, when it was last held in Newcastle.

Given that the Magic Weekend this year was moved to September from its previous May scheduling, when it was originally intended to be this year, I don’t think that’s a bad outcome.

Interestingly, the pattern of attendances always seems to be that the Saturday games attract more spectators, no doubt with people worrying about returning home late on a Sunday night while having to go to work the next day.

And the fans who turned up on Saturday were certainly good judges this year, being treated to two matches that went to golden point, with both matches being settled in the 88th minute, by James Maloney for Catalans Dragons and Kruise Leeming for Leeds Rhinos respectively.

It’s a long time since I’ve seen such an astonishing climax to a game as the Catalans’ victory over St Helens on Saturday.

To score three tries in the last five minutes is possibly unique at that level, and although it gave us a thrilling denouement to the game, it was astonishing to see a team as defensively strong as St Helens allowing their armour to be penetrated three times in such quick succession.

The day belonged to the Catalans and so does the League Leaders’ Shield, which I assume will now be presented to them at the Stade Gilbert Brutus when they entertain Huddersfield Giants on Saturday.

Last week the Catalans’ coach Steve McNamara seemed ambivalent when asked to anticipate being awarded the ‘Hubcap’ in front of his own supporters.

Of course what Steve really wants to win is the Grand Final and there are plenty of examples of clubs winning the League Leaders’ Shield who don’t go on to win the Grand Final.

We only have to look back to 2020 to see the latest example, when Wigan won the Shield but St Helens triumphed in the Grand Final.

The best example of a team celebrating the winning of the Shield, only to fail to make the Grand Final, is Huddersfield Giants in 2013.

Unfortunately the Giants have never attained the same degree of success since then.

On Sunday they were one of the biggest disappointments at this year’s Magic Weekend.

At the start of the season there was great optimism at the John Smith’s Stadium for their prospects under new coach Ian Watson, and to say they have under-achieved is a massive understatement.

But then there’s always next year.

And then we come to Hull FC, who now look unlikely to qualify for the play-offs, although if they can get two wins from their last two games, and other results go their way, then they could still qualify, as unlikely as that looks.

But after a good start to the season, it must be galling for Hull FC fans to come to terms with another season of under-achievement, particularly if their neighbours in east Hull succeed in reaching the play-offs.

Next Saturday’s game between Hull Kingston Rovers and Castleford Tigers at Hull College Craven Park should be worth travelling a long way to see.

Fortunately for neutrals, the game will be broadcast by Sky Sports.

Wigan’s open governance

I was impressed to see the account of Wigan Chairman Ian Lenagan and CEO Kris Radlinski fronting a fans’ forum in Wigan last week to discuss the running of the club.

I would recommend anyone to go to the Wigan website to read the transcript of the event, which delves into all the nooks and crannies of running the club, covering a vast array of issues, both on the pitch and off it.

It demonstrates that running a major Rugby League club these days is anything but a simple operation, whether that involves dealing with players, attracting higher attendances, or managing issues linked to the operation of the stadium.

One of the problems for Wigan is that the club doesn’t own its own stadium. Instead it is a tenant of Wigan Athletic and apparently the new owners of Wigan Athletic FC, who do own the stadium, are keen on extracting more rent from the Warriors.

I had hoped that the Rugby League club would be successful in buying the stadium when the football club went into administration, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

We tend to see the same problem at Hull FC, that sharing a stadium with a football club is a financial drain on a Rugby League club, which of course generates far less money than its landlord.

I can only imagine how difficult this relationship is.

For example, the new owners of the DW Stadium apparently want to paint the whole place blue, which is Wigan Athletic’s colours.

And there would be nothing that the Warriors’ directors could do to stop them.

Nonetheless, we should all thank the two Wigan supremos for their openness and honesty in revealing the intricacies of operating their club to their supporters.

Other clubs should perhaps follow their example.

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