SUPER LEAGUE leaders Leeds Rhinos will be backed by their own Toon Army in Newcastle on Saturday.
Rhinos will have a record following behind them when they take on Wigan Warriors at St James’ Park on day one of the Magic Weekend.
Leeds and Hull – who face Hull KR in the preceding game on Saturday afternoon – are expected to be the two best-supported sides at this year’s event.
“It looks like we will be taking more than 5,000 fans to Newcastle,” said Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington.
“That will be easily a record following for the Rhinos. It will be significantly more than we’ve taken anywhere else to a Magic event.”
Hetherington also revealed Rhinos have been building a relationship with the north east’s only professional club, Newcastle Thunder.
The club was founded by Hetherington’s wife Kath in 1999 as Gateshead Thunder, but moved to Newcastle for the start of this season.
“We’re also hoping all the rugby league fans from the north east – and apparently ticket sales up there have been good – will be supporting the Rhinos,” Hetherington added.
“In recent weeks the Thunder coaching staff have been spending some time at Kirkstall (Rhinos’ training base) with our coach Brian McDermott and his staff.
“I am quite good friends with their chief executive Michael Hogan and with Semore Kurdi, who is owner of Newcastle Falcons and now Thunder as well.
“I know him through my rugby union commitments and they are looking to try and do something similar up there with the Falcons and Thunder as we have with Rhinos and Yorkshire Carnegie.
“We have got a good relationship with them and we’re keen to assist Newcastle in any way we can.”
Hetherington urged Rhinos fans spending the weekend in Newcastle to attend Thunder’s game against York City Knights on Friday night.
He added: “We should have considerable Rhinos support in the stadium on Saturday.
“There should be 40,000 in the stadium when our game is on and it is starting to feel like the build-up to a Cup final.
“It is a crucial game for both us and Wigan.
“We want to win the league leaders’ shield this year and they will be desperate to bounce back from defeats to Hull KR and Catalan.
“St James’ Park is a really special venue and it’s location in the city is ideal for a Magic event.”