Talking RL: Magic showdown should be a royal rumble!

George Williams and Warrington counterpart Tyrone Roberts in Newcastle earlier this week
George Williams and Warrington counterpart Tyrone Roberts in Newcastle earlier this week

The eyes of the UK public and the sporting world will be on Wigan’s Magic showdown with Warrington on Saturday evening! Well, maybe not.

I imagine most of the country will be following the royal wedding and most ‘neutral’ sports fans watching the FA Cup Final.

Hell, not even all rugby league fans will be watching - the biggest game in the Championship this weekend, Featherstone-Leigh, has ludicrously been scheduled for 6pm on Saturday (what’s that about?).

But, for everyone left, for everyone interested, this should be a cracker.

Both teams are in-form, both are packed with talented players. Wigan are unbeaten at Magic under Shaun Wane, Josh Charnley will face his old club for the first time, only two points separate them on the ladder - all the ingredients are there.

Interestingly, listening to fans, there is a cross-section of opinion about whether the Magic concept should be kept, scrapped, tweaked or moved.

My own view is I like the annual carnival and I’ve been happy with the locations so far - they’ve all had their strengths and weaknesses.

My main gripe over the extra round is the unfairness of it all. And not so much at the top - where either Wigan or Wire will drop points, or both a point, while Saints will no-doubt stroll past Widnes - because the champions are decided through a play-offs system.

The potential injustice will be at the other end of the table, where the scrap to avoid the bottom-four before the split for the Super-8s is just as close.

Imagine how Widnes will feel - after 23 rounds - if they miss out on a top-eight spot to Catalans, who face the much-easier prospect of taking on injury-hit Salford instead?

I’ve previously suggested the Magic Weekend should be retained, but rather than being an ‘extra’ fixture, each club should sacrifice a home match every other year.

So what if Saturday’s game was supposed to be Warrington’s “home” match? Wigan go there two weeks later in the Challenge Cup anyway! And the sides will no doubt meet again in the Super-8s.

That whinge aside, I’m looking forward to the weekend. Previous events have not disappointed.

Here’s hoping this delivers, on and off the field.

Super League general manager Mark Foster gave interviews this week saying the Magic Weekend may go overseas.

I doubt anyone, really, thinks that will happen, but it was good to hear from Foster.

Because the silence from those at the top has been deafening this year.

Ralph Rimmer, the RFL’s interim chief executive, has said little. Brian Barwick, the chairman, seemingly even less.

As for Foster, since he tweeted a picture of Rimmer meeting with sports promotor Eddie Hearn back in February, he has written nothing on Twitter until this week... when Rimmer met with Eddie’s dad, Barry.

There is, we can guess, a reason for the silence.

A power-shift is taking place behind-the-scenes. Super League clubs have already taken control of the competition and are pushing for more power, more money, more control.

While negotiations are going on, everyone is keeping quiet – club chairmen, too.

Only trouble is, in the meantime, we’ve been left with a void. Radio-silence from all parties.

Hopefully, with this week’s appointment of Robert Elstone to head up Super League, things will change.

We will see leadership, we will hear a voice.

And if Elstone needs an inkling into some of the problems he must tackle, he only needs to look at the way his appointment was confirmed - not by anyone from within rugby league, but by Everton FC.

Last weekend’s Challenge Cup round showed the best and the worst of rugby league.

We saw some gutsy and great displays, hat-tricks, a British try-scoring sequence record matched, and a Championship club beat a Super League side. It was good to see Gareth Hock on the small screen, mixing it up, too. And what about the TV coverage?

All four games screened, extended coverage on the Sunday, and a hat-tip to the BBC for using Jon Wilkin and Denis Betts as summarisers - maybe using current players and coaches is something Sky Sports could consider?

All good stuff.

Now, the bad, starting with some poor crowds.

Just 1,865 were at Widnes to see their 20-23 loss to Super League champions Leeds - a shocking attendance for a knock-out match between two top-flight sides.

According to the Vikings website, general admission was £19 adults.

Could all involved agree to slash tickets in the future? Just a thought.

We also saw some incredible indiscipline and disrespect towards the referee. Which brings me to...

During Saturday’s game, a comment by Castleford on their official Twitter account included the remark: “The ref making the rules up as he goes along.”

That is disgraceful.

I’ve watched the incident again. And you know what? The ref may have got it wrong.

That’s probably because he’s human and he makes mistakes.

Just like, at the start of the second half, when a Cas’ player dropped the ball from the kick-off.

Can you imagine if the RFL Referees account posted a remark like, “The Cas’ player mustn’t know he needs to catch the ball”?

Of course not.

How is rugby league going to encourage more people to referee, when even clubs are - publicly - questioning their competence?

I’m nearly 40. I’m over-weight. And if I had to – had to – choose between refereeing a Super League game or playing in it, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.

Sam Tomkins gave this newspaper group an extensive interview earlier this week, explaining the reasons for his departure.

I appreciated his candour.

It’s clear how much he loves Wigan and it’s obviously been a tough decision for him to make.

The most insightful part of the interview was his admission he will still be going to Catalans if they are relegated; that question had niggled me since it emerged last month he would be heading to France at the end of his contract.

Many will be disappointed he is leaving.

Some, maybe, will hold a grudge.

But I hope everyone thanks him for his service so far, enjoy his performances for the rest of the season, and then wish him well with the next chapter of his career.