Inside RL: Innovative Magic concept is ready for a makeover – Smith

Brad Singleton.
Brad Singleton.
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SOME IMPORTANT questions were being asked on t’interweb the other day, such as: Is Ray French?

Or, has Barry Eaton? What was Eddie Waring? Does Joel Moon? And how do you get to Brandan Hill?

The answer to the last one is along Tim Street, across Chris Bridge, through Jamie Field and it’s on Scott Moore.

Such nonsense is a symptom of mid-season madness. Another indication we are half-way through what is a long campaign is the fact Magic Weekend begins in a couple of days’ time.

The event is on the move to its fourth base, after previous stints at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, Murrayfield in Edinburgh and the past two seasons at City of Manchester Stadium.

That was a good venue, but building works made it unavailable this year and the switch to Newcastle’s St James’ Park seems to have reinvigorated the event.

The whole point of Magic is it should be a mid-season weekend away and an opportunity to spread the game, so holding it within an hour or so’s drive of most Super League clubs defeated the object.

Newcastle promises to be popular with the fans.

It’s a famous venue in a lively city and word is ticket sales, for Saturday in particular, are healthy.

A figure of 40,000 has been mentioned for the opening day, which would be a record. It’s a shame the RFL have shown no imagination whatsoever with the fixture list.

The Magic matches were announced a few weeks after the rest of the season’s card.

Presumably that was so the governing body’s boffins could study spreadsheets, load data into the computer and analyse market research.

Unfortunately, at the end of all that they just said to themselves: “Nuts to this, we’ll just do what we do every year.”

So on Saturday it’s Salford Red Devils v Widnes Vikings, Hull v Hull KR and Leeds Rhinos v Wigan Warriors, followed the following day by Catalans Dragons v Huddersfield Giants, St Helens v Warrington Wolves and a thrilling finale when Castleford Tigers take on Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.

Five of those matches are a repeat of last season. Catalans and Huddersfield get a change of opponent because they played a relegated team in 2014.

The RFL remain obsessed with derbies, but are fans more likely to attend Magic because their side are playing a local rival?

Probably not. However, the fact the competition is so tight this year has worked in the governing body’s favour and produced a series of what should be intriguing fixtures with something at stake.

On day one, 11th on the table plays eighth, ninth versus 10th and first v third and on day two: sixth v fourth, second v fifth and seventh v 12th.

Castleford have a big advantage over the rest of their top-eight rivals by taking on the competition’s lame ducks, but the other matches look fairly open.

That said, the RFL have got lucky. If the event continues maybe next year they could shake things up a bit.

The sport’s administrators aren’t known for their reluctance to take risks. The concept itself was an innovation when it began in 2007, so how about doing something radical – for example announcing the fixtures on the Monday before the event?

Then they could be based on the current league table, so one plays two, three v four and so on. That makes it fairer and would mean there was something resting on every game. Maybe it wouldn’t be ideal for fans, who would not know, until a few days before, when their team were playing; but, along with competitive pricing, that might encourage them to commit to both days.

Even more radically, the competition could offer bonus points on the table for clubs who sell the most tickets.

And if none of that works, there’s always the option of scrapping the whole thing, clearing a mid-season date in the calendar and replacing Magic with an international weekend.