After a successful few years in Newcastle, it looks like the RFL are keen to move on. Andrew Riley looks at a couple of the places mentioned.
A lot of fans will tell you that Newcastle has been a roaring success as a venue for Magic Weekend, and, as someone who covered two seasons up there, I’d agree. As venues go, its a corker!
Easy access to the bars and restaurants of Newcastle, a fan zone that has developed into a great place to meet up and chat with fellow fans from other clubs, and of course Rugby AM.
Given that the event was derided by some at its inception, the RFL have worked wonders to turn it into one of the biggest events on the sports calendar.
For me its up there with the Grand final and the Challenge Cup final as an event in its own right.
Back in 2007 just over 59,000 watched 6 super league matches over two days in Cardiff, and hardly anyone outside of the sport thought it was going to be viable to carry on, but the following season, again, in the capital of the principality, over 63,000 hardy souls made the trip.
After two years, it was decided that a move North was needed & the event landed in Edinburgh for two seasons.
In 2011 however, it returned to Cardiff, but this time it was as the opening round of the season, and after criticism of the “seeding” of games, it was decided that local derbies would form the weekend.
The attendance was however down on the previous years, with just 60,214 heading to Wales in February.
Next up was Manchester, and the Etihad stadium, home of Manchester City, and the matches reverted to a mid season set of derbies, rather than a season opener, over the bank holiday weekend.
This, and the fantastic weather, saw the largest ever crowd of 63,716 attend.
The event was to stay in Manchester for the following two years, growing in stature and attendance each time, 64,552 was the highest ever for a Magic Weekend, while the Saturday attendance of 36,339 was the highest ever single-day figure until both records were surpassed the consequent year in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Looking forward though, after four very successful years in Newcastle, the RFL are looking to move the event again, with Manchester being a front runner, and rumoured to be part of the deal which will see the RFL installed as tenants at the nearby “Sports City”.
From a purely personal point of view, I’d happily see it return to Manchester, as its a simple tram ride there and back, but many would see it as a backwards step, and are keen on taking it abroad, with Toronto, Dublin and even New York being mentioned.
I’m all for expanding the game, but are we at risk of doing damage to the sport by rushing to outposts (after all, we still don’t have a South Wales super league team, nor a Scottish team) that don’t really “get” the sport as yet.
I’ll admit, the Canadians have taken to the sport, and the possibility of a team in the Big Apple (not Bramley, the other one!) is a mouthwatering prospect, but if we’re going abroad, then for me, Florida has to be the option.
Fans can combine their holiday with a bit of rugby league, get a decent tan and maybe even take in a baseball game.
The universities there have stadia that put some of our grounds to shame, so finding a venue to suit everyone shouldn’t be a problem.
There is already a league structure in Florida, so the appetite is certainly growing for the sport there, and a fair old ex-pat community as well.
For me though, the weekend SHOULD stay in Newcastle. Its just feels right.
Thunder playing on the Friday followed by a complete round of games. Rather than derbies though, I’d make the build up to the weekend all that much better by drawing the games out of a hat a couple of weeks before, and turning the draw into the sort of media event that the Challenge Cup has become.