With the dust of the Magic Weekend at the Etihad Stadium barely settling as I write this week’s column I feel I ought to discuss the merits of rugby league’s annual weekend adventure.
The Magic Weekend concept of taking a full round of Super League fixtures and hosting them all in one stadium over a weekend was conceived by Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood in 2007.
The idea courted much controversy and has its supporters and detractors alike.
But love it or loathe it, it would appear that the Magic Weekend is definitely here to stay after attracting a record-breaking aggregate attendance of 63,716 over the weekend.
My personal view is that the actual concept of the Magic Weekend is a positive one, it’s another further opportunity to showcase what I believe to be the greatest game on Earth.
However, I also believe that the current format of this event doesn’t make the most of what the Stobart Super League has to offer and I’d like to elaborate on a point made in Ratcliffe’s Review.
Currently the Magic Weekend fixtures are based on local derby matches, but this has, over the last five years, often resulted in several one-sided scores across the weekend and this doesn’t necessarily provide the greatest entertainment for the neutral; be they watching in the ground before or after their own team has played and does nothing to encourage these neutrals to remain in the ground.
For an event like this to really be considered a success in my eyes, the stadium needs to be as close to full capacity as possible for the entirety of the matches played each day.
Uncompetitive matches will just never ensure this and empty seats project an image of a game in poor health to casual television observer.
Rugby league fans will come out in force for competitive matches even if their own team is not playing, the Carnegie Challenge Cup final and Grand Final are both evidence of this.
There are other fierce rivalries within the Stobart Super League that are not local derbies and the RFL could do worse than to reassess the Magic Weekend fixture list to incorporate some of these matches to readdress the balance and encourage all supporters to watch matches other than that of their team.
Of course the deciding of which matches will be competitive or not is not an exact science and anomalies will still occur.
Having four matches on one day may be more than even the most enthusiastic of rugby league fans could endure before rugby league fatigue sets in and this may also be something the RFL could reconsider in an attempt to encourage fans to remain in their seats throughout the weekend.
To the action itself then and the major talking point of the weekend was during the Saints and Wigan match when a scrum erupted into a mass brawl, resulting in three players being sent off, Gareth Hock and Chris Tuson of the Warriors, and Saints’ Shaun Magennis.
All three are due to face the RFL disciplinary board this week with the outcome of their hearings unknown at the time of writing.
Hock has been a shining light in the Wigan pack this year and has been rightly lauded by the media.
His absence, should he receive a suspension – which is likely having seen the footage of the incident and given his past disciplinary record – will be a huge blow to Wigan as he provides such good go-forward, while also possessing the skills to offload in the tackle and create opportunities for his teammates around him on the field.
He also provides the Warriors with aggression in defence and is capable of producing some absolutely massive hits.
“Gaz is no angel and neither are St Helens,” said Wigan coach Shaun Wane.
“Whatever happens we’ll deal with it.
“If he gets suspended, we’ve a lot of kids coming through who are chomping at the bit to get a game and this might be their chance.”