HALF-FULL houses at Super League’s Magic Weekend are baffling to Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington.
The event – which sees an entire Super League round played at one venue over two days – will be staged for the eighth time this week.
It will be the third successive year at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium and the RFL are hoping for a bumper gate, after a fall last season.
A record total of 67,716 fans turned up for the 2012 Magic showpiece, but that was reduced to 62,322 the following year.
Ticket sales for this weekend are up on 12 months ago and Hetherington has given the controversial event his backing – despite some reservations over its future.
“I have always been a big fan of it,” said the Leeds chief. “I have always felt it needs another 20,000 people and I have never quite worked out why it doesn’t get that.
“It is a terrific event and it showcases rugby league and the uniqueness of rugby league. There are not too many other sports could bring together all the fans from different clubs to enjoy a terrific day out, with action-packed games.
“The games are meaningful and important and it portrays our sport in a very good light.”
The Magic Weekend was originally designed to promote rugby league in areas where the sport is not well-established, with Cardiff and Edinburgh both hosting the event in its early years.
It has now moved into rugby league territory, within a couple of hours’ drive of most of the competing clubs, but Hetherington insisted: “It has found a magnificent venue at Etihad Stadium.
“There are issues to be addressed, but in terms of creating an event and another showpiece for the sport, it certainly does that.
“We have to be mindful to create showcases for the sport that are going to be enjoyed by the fans in the stadium and the TV viewers at home and it certainly does that.”
Of problems facing the concept going forward, Hetherington admitted: “It is an extra fixture.
“That’s an issue now we have got relegation and will be when the format of the competition changes next year and the importance increases of coming eighth not ninth, fourth not fifth and first not second. When everybody plays everybody else home and away nobody can argue, but the extra fixture could be significant.
“They have done a terrific job matching up teams, but it is a difficult job to get them all evenly-matched, so everyone is going in with a 50-50 chance.
“A lot can change from when the fixtures are drawn up at the start of the year.”
Rhinos will face Wigan Warriors in Saturday’s fourth and final game, just 15 days after beating them at Headingley Carnegie.
Some other matches - for example Castleford Tigers’ derby with Wakefield Trinity Wildcats which opens day two - are a repeat of games played over Easter.
“That’s another issue,” Hetherington admitted. “But I don’t think anybody will be disappointed we are playing Wigan again, particularly after such an outstanding game a few weeks ago.
“I think people will be really looking forward to another great game and maybe a different result. Just because one team won a few weeks ago doesn’t mean they will do again.”