Talking RL: A simple solution to grow Magic

Wigan fans at Magic Weekend
Wigan fans at Magic Weekend

In this column last week I compared the RFL to a well-run council - hitting targets, seemingly content to cruise along – and said how I’d rather see it run like sports which have enjoyed surges of interest.

As if to highlight my point, Super League sent an email to boast about the ‘record’ crowd at Newcastle’s Magic Weekend.

But in truth it was less than 500 on the previous year’s attendance. If the event was a success, the level of growth certainly wasn’t.

After all the good reports and feedback from the first event at Newcastle, there really should have been a bigger crowd for the two days.

Of course, it’s easy to fire shots without offering solutions, so how about this simple one:

Don’t arrange other games for the Magic Weekend.

I counted more than 4,000 fans at Championship games played on Saturday and Sunday.

That’s not to count League One, amateur games – the likes of St Pat’s and St Jude’s played on Saturday – and the vast number of junior matches which took place on Sunday mornings.

How many of those would have made the trip to Newcastle? It’d be a safe guess to say quite a few!

The Magic Weekend is a carnival, after all. A chance for the extended family to unite - yep, even the cousins you don’t particularly like! - and showcase league’s strengths.

It didn’t matter who was playing. Everyone there on Saturday was engrossed by Castleford’s fightback against Warrington and everyone there on Sunday was blown away by Jacob Miller’s winning drop-goal for Wakefield (I’d have banked my mortgage on Pat Richards kicking the penalty for Catalans minutes earlier).

St James’ Park is a great venue for the Magic Weekend and it would be a popular choice to return.

Sure, it’s not perfect. The fans zone is crammed into a carpark, rather than spread out like at the Etihad, and the hotels are in short demand and, consequently, expensive.

But I’ve been to all 10 events and it’s the best of the lot so far.

Etihad is too far out of the city, and its closeness to the heartland makes it feel less like an event and more like a regular away match.

Interestingly, I was shown a survey last week - sent by the RFL to some fans - gauging interest in a Magic Weekend at London’s Olympic Stadium.

I can see the attraction about taking it to the capital. Strategically, it’s good for the game, it may attract greater corporate investment, it has easy travel links and plenty of hotels.

It’s also easier to sell something ‘new’; look how much more excitement is generated by a ‘new’ signing than the re-signing of an existing star.

But the Olympic Stadium is too soul-less, too spread out, too vacuous. And in London, fans would disperse and dilute the ‘community’ feel which is part of the Magic Weekend’s success.

When commenting on a team’s performance, I consider what would have been considered a success before kick-off.

Take Saturday. Offered a scoreline of 40-8 beforehand, most Wigan fans would have snatched it. They’ve witnessed some stale attacks this season - the prospect of seeing their team score so many points would have been irresistible.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was more than I expected.

So, to tonight; Castleford away. What would I take? A win. Any win.

I don’t care how snaggy, how ugly, how uninspiring.

The Jungle - or whatever it is these days - has not been a happy hunting ground for Wigan for the past two years, and ‘classy Cas’ are in good form.

I had a beer with a Leeds-supporting mate on Saturday night.

He still thinks it’s possible they will make the top-eight before the season splits – I told him to forget about it.

I knew things were bad; until Saturday, I didn’t realise just how bad they were.

But I also told him things will pick up and he can expect an enjoyable run-
in.

He thought I’d had too much to drink - it was a free bar (thanks, First Utility), after all – but I hadn’t.

I vividly remember a decade ago, when Wigan were bottom of the pile, and how much fun it was as they clawed their way out of trouble. Huddersfield are only two points ahead of them in the table, but they seem to have turned the corner - as their 48-20 win against St Helens illustrated.

And of the teams currently in the top-eight, seven are either in good positions or in good form.

The other is Widnes, 
who are just four points ahead of Huddersfield – and without a win in eight matches.

They look vulnerable.

At the start of the year, when the Vikings were leading the way, they were labelled ‘the Leicester City of Super League’.

It seems they meant the 2014/15 version, rather than last season’s surprise champions.

Wakefield are ditching their nickname the ‘Wildcats’.

Good.

Of all the American/Aussie-style monikers adapted since Super League’s creation, this was arguably the worst.

Sorry, no; I’ve just remembered Halifax were the Blue Sox for a while!

But what made Wakefield’s daft name even d
after was the fact they didn’t need it; there was nothing wrong with Trinity. Glad to see common-sense has prevailed.