Talking RL: A way to make Magic fairer

Warriors players celebrate at Magic
Warriors players celebrate at Magic

The weekend crowd of 65,407 was down on the past two years, but still represented the third biggest Magic Weekend crowd.

I think Newcastle is a great fit for the event – it ticks most of the boxes, including two big ones: great stadium and a great location.

Sure, the fans’ village isn’t as good in a tiny car-park rather than the concourse outside Manchester’s Etihad, and fans going from the north west for a day have a six-hour round-trip.

But the pros out-weigh the cons.

I could understand why organisers may want to move it away to freshen it up.

Liverpool would get my backing. Coventry, not so much. London would depend on the stadium chosen (Spurs’ new ground in two years, anyone?).

But if they keep it at Newcastle, there are still ways they could increase the crowd.

Last weekend, not only were there lower-league matches, but amateur games, too. If they’d had a blank weekend (and amateurs don’t play this weekend) how many more would have gone along?

And one thing the last four Magic events have in common is a big drop in attendance on the second-day of at least 5,000, and as much as nearly 14,000.

Before then, all the Sunday crowds were either bigger than Saturday’s figure, or similar to it.

So what’s changed? The last four years have all been staged in mid-May.

Previous Magics – aside from 2011, which opened the competition – have been at the start or end of May. When many people are off work or school the Monday... making a weekend away more appealing.

Of course, Magic couldn’t have been held on the Bank Holiday weekend this year as we have a ‘double round’ of fixtures.

Why?

To accommodate England’s aborted training camp in Dubai!

Only in rugby league.

While I’m a fan of the Magic Weekend as a concept, I do have a problem with its fairness.

In a ring-fenced ‘franchise’ league, it wasn’t a big deal. But when four teams fall into a relegation scrap after 23 rounds – and only four, rather than eight, are in the play-offs spots – it can have big implications. Especially when the fixtures are contrived, and handpicked by the RFL.

If we’re going to carry on with the Super-8s system – and the indications suggest that we are – there is an easy way of keeping Magic and also making it fair; for six teams to surrender a home match.

The year later, the other six teams do the same. So each team has played each other twice, and the season splits after 22 rounds.

Some will say that would rob Wigan of a glamour home fixture – Leeds, St Helens or Warrington, depending who they face at Magic – but in reality, the chances are they may host the side in the Super-8s, Cup or play-offs (it’s not inconceivable Wigan will face Warrington six times this year).

Food for thought.

Could Wigan have caught St Helens at a worse possible time?

Saints – struggling Saints – beat third-placed Hull FC 45-0!

The presence of new coach Justin Holbrook clearly had the desired effect – the players found an extra gear to try and catch his eye.

Even accounting for Hull’s previous for collapsing in defeat – Salford and Leeds put more than half-a-century past them – Saints were impressive.

And now they have their first home game with their new coach in charge and, as if they needed any additional feelgood factor, there’s talk of them recruiting one of the NRL’s most entertaining players, Ben Barba.

It all sets it up for an intriguing derby.

Shaun Wane says Wigan rise to the occasion when they are “under the pump”, and history tells us that is true. Only once this year – at Castleford – have Wigan been well beaten.

But my confidence in Wigan producing a performance tonight isn’t just down to their character, but their combinations. Because earlier this year, they were down on troops but still chalking off the wins. Why? Because the spine of their side – from full-back to the halves to the hooker to the loose-forward – was present and accounted for.

Sure, winger Lewis Tierney is covering at full-back, but the return of Thomas Leuluai means all the other key players are in the side. And in George Williams, Sean O’Loughlin, Micky McIlorum and Sam Powell from the bench, they have real quality.

O’Loughlin showed his class in the 24-24 draw against Warrington, both throughout the game and in the dramatic ending with a pinpoint kick. I doubt it was a coincidence the team dropped off, allowing Wolves to score two quickfire tries, when he was rested in the second-half.

Across the board, Wigan will need to show better ball-control than at Magic, and up front the likes of Frank-Paul Nuuausala will really need to aim up against Saints props Alex Walmsley and Kyle Amor.

Victory would propel Wigan equal on points with fourth-placed Leeds. Lose, and St Helens will cut the margin on them to a slender one point. It’s all getting tight in the middle.

St Helens chief executive Mike Rush says Catalans Dragons would be well advised to follow his club’s example by appointing an NRL assistant coach.

It worked when Wigan appointed Michael Maguire. Less so with Craig Sandercock at Hull KR.

But given Super League’s top-six clubs all have homegrown coaches at the helm, do Catalans really need to look for an Australian?

Asked about his early return from injury, Thomas Leuluai said: “I don’t think breaking your jaw is as bad as people think it is.”

Really? If it was me, I’d not move from the couch for a month!

The gesture from Salford owner Marwan Koukash made last night was great to see.

If you missed it, he is waiving ticket prices for tomorrow night’s game against Catalans, instead asking for a donation to the fund for families of the victims of the terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena on Monday night.

There are no words to describe the horror of what happened, but the way people have wanted to help has been inspiring.