AS AN event, the ninth Magic Weekend was a great success.
Hopefully Magic has now found its home, in Newcastle. St James’ Park proved to be, as was widely expected, an ideal venue. It’s a superb stadium, with the right sort of capacity, around 50,000 and in the perfect location, smack in the city centre.
There are sometimes problems when rugby league takes over a football venue. Generally they – and the people who work there – are geared up to keeping rival supporters as far apart as possible and well away from the players.
Rugby league events are, in the main, designed to be the exact opposite and – crucially – the St James’ Park staff seemed to get that. They and the RFL deserve great praise for a well-organised event. There was lots going on in and around the stadium and the atmosphere throughout was good, even when there were gaps in the stands.
As predicted, day one set a record with an attendance of 40,871. With Leeds Rhinos taking on Wigan Warriors immediately after the Hull derby, the scene was set for a big crowd. At 26,917, Sunday’s gate was up on what was expected and the aggregate of 67,788 beat the previous weekend record, set at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium last year. A lower crowd on the Sunday had been predicted, due to the fixture list. The day-two opener – Catalans Dragons against Huddersfield Giants – was a clash between the two current Super League clubs with the lowest away support.
St Helens and Warrington Wolves, who met in the second game, had plenty of backing, but there was a drift towards the exits when that finished.
Presumably the Castleford Tigers-Wakefield Trinity Wildcats derby was chosen as the final Sunday game as their fans had an easier journey home, straight down the A1. But it wasn’t exactly a blockbuster to close proceedings and an inaccurate announcement over the public address about the A1 being closed at Scotch Corner from 8pm didn’t encourage fans to hang around. That said, the Castleford contingent made quite a din, which meant the atmosphere was a lot better than it might have been.
This column has commented before on the trouble which takes place at most of rugby league’s big events. The sport likes to portray the image of fans from all clubs mingling happily together and on the whole that’s fairly accurate, but there were outbreaks of fighting during the Hull derby – allegedly involving Leeds supporters – and police and stewards had to step into action again late on the final afternoon.
Obviously it doesn’t take many idiots to spoil things for the vast majority, but crowd trouble is the elephant in rugby league’s room. The game needs to recognise the fact there is a problem and take steps – banning orders and so on – to deal with it.
Prohibiting the sale of alcohol inside grounds would also be a positive move. It is a shame when law-abiding spectators have to be inconvenienced and dry stadiums would put some potential customers off, but it might also encourage families to return.
As for the rugby itself, the six matches reflected how the competition has been this year. There were some good individual performances, a couple of excellent team displays and two tight finishes, but overall the action was a little disappointing.
Wigan were excellent in their win over Leeds in the highest-quality game and Saints’ victory against Warrington was a thriller.
After being dire for an hour, the Giants-Catalans showdown went to the last kick, but the other three were too one-sided to keep neutral fans interested. There were a few controversial decisions, but unlike previous Magic Weekends, the 2015 edition lacked a major talking point.
All that said, the RFL can’t control the quality of the rugby and most fans probably went away feeling, on the whole, they got their money’s worth.
There’s talk of tinkering with Magic, possibly turning it into a nines tournament, but last week proved that’s not necessary.
A more imaginative fixture list and it will be bang on.