SPORTS editor Phil Wilkinson looks at five things we have learned from this year’s Magic Weekend as Super League went on the road to invade Newcastle’s St James’ Park.
1 St James’ Park was a terrific venue – and perfect for the Magic Weekend.
Sure, it was further away than Manchester, but the consensus for those who made the three hour-plus drive was that it was well worth it.
Because Newcastle is a great city, compact and full of character, and St James’ is right in the heart of it - not a few miles away. The ground itself also worked well for Magic.
Modern and yet steeped in history, big but not vacuous, the steep banks amplified the noise from the 40,000 crowd on Saturday.
Sensibly, fans were allowed to wonder in and out – three back-to-back games can be too much of a good thing – and officials put on a good show, with a fanzone outside and entertainment between the matches to generate a carnival feel.
Officials must now decide where to stage the event in 2016: Manchester, Newcastle, or somewhere else.
2 Even the most optimistic Wigan fans may have wondered whether the heavy loss in France really was a blip, or something much worse.
And when the Warriors started brightly but then conceded two tries against Leeds, some may have been fearing a third successive defeat.
But the character they showed was admirable, they attacked with zip when they needed to, with Matty Bowen proving there is plenty of life in his old legs with two important tries.
It was great to see Bowen sizzle in the sunshine once again... let’s hope it was a sign of things to come.
3 When Wigan lost at a sun-kissed Salford on Easter Monday, the home side moved into the top-four of the Super League table.
But since then they have yet to sing their winning song - well, if they have, they’re very sad - and their 38-16 loss to Widnes was their seventh defeat in a row.
At times, they had spirit, but their scratchy performance left so many questions - and the return of Rangi Chase from suspension this week surely can’t answer them all.
It was commendable that the Griffin brothers all played, but in hindsight perhaps it called for a cooler head; two were sent from the pitch - one for a red card, one shown yellow – and in hindsight, suggesting they weren’t in the right emotional state.
4 Hull FC are good enough to make the play-offs. Discuss.
Since Easter, the Black and Whites have been one of the form teams of Super League, and their 46-20 derby win was their fifth victory from their last seven matches.
They lack stand-out performers, but they certainly look better organised than at the start of the year and if they maintain their run, who would be surprised if they tried to gatecrash the end of season party – especially if one of the ‘big four’ falters.
5 Catalans were outstanding against Wigan a week ago and showed their battling qualities to come from behind and claim a draw against Huddersfield yesterday. So far, so encouraging.
But news Todd Carney may be absent for up to three months is a huge blow to their prospects.
He scored two tries against the Giants and his crisp, smart passing showed just why NRL clubs are keen to lure him home. Without Carney, it’s hard to see the Dragons firing.