Challenge Cup v Magic Weekend: Can they continue to co-exist?

James Gordon

As we prepare for the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup, it is now less than 100 days until Magic Weekend.

It will be the 15th edition of the Magic Weekend, taking place at St James’ Park, Newcastle on July 9/10.

But there is no doubting that finding a place in the calendar alongside the Challenge Cup final is causing a headache.

The clamour to bring the Challenge Cup final forward from the August Bank Holiday has seen it land back in May, which had previously become a popular slot for Magic Weekend.

May was the traditional slot for the cup final, albeit when the season ran through the winter.

What a May final means now is shoe-horning the rounds in between January and April – effectively meaning every other weekend has become a Challenge Cup one.

League One clubs had to play cup ties some two months before their first league fixture in 2022, while Championship clubs have had just three league fixtures over the past seven weekends.

An early exit has meant clubs have been without a game every other weekend since the start of March.

Challenge Cup v Magic Weekend – fighting for crowds

While the Challenge Cup final was traditionally rugby league’s grand day out in the south, interest has waned slightly in recent years.

That could be attributed to a number of things – the date being one, hence the movement from August Bank Holiday.

But fans also now have Magic Weekend and trips to France to choose as alternatives.

In 2018, for the first time, the aggregate crowd at Magic Weekend exceeded the Wembley cup final attendance.

Cup Final Date Magic Magic Date
2007 84,241 August 25 58,831 May 5/6
2008 82,821 August 30 63,144 May 3/4
2009 76,560 August 29 59,749 May 2/3
2010 85,217 August 28 52,043 May 1/2
2011 78,482 August 27 60,214 Feb 12/13
2012 79,180 August 25 63,716 May 26/27
2013 78,137 August 24 62,042 May 25/26
2014 77,914 August 23 64,552 May 17/18
2015 80,140 August 29 67,841 May 30/31
2016 76,235 August 27 68,276 May 21/22
2017 68,525 August 26 65,407 May 20/21
2018 50,672 August 25 64,319 May 19/20
2019 62,717 August 24 56,869 May 26/26
2020 No fans due to COVID
2021 40,000 July 17 60,866 September 4/5

Who will win the Challenge Cup v Magic Weekend battle this year?

IN NUMBERS: St Helens leading way for highest average attendances

Feeling positive

Super League could have stumbled upon a gem in the schedule with their early July date.

It’s just before the school holidays, which means community work can be ramped up.

The Year 7 schools final will be held as a curtain raiser to Magic Weekend, rather than ahead of the Challenge Cup final.

And the Newcastle game against Bradford in the Championship on the Friday night to kick off the weekend promises to attract a big crowd.

The Champions Schools event will also be held in Newcastle on the Friday.

A Super League spokesperson said: “The last proper Magic Weekend in Newcastle was 2018 and all the figures are positive. We’re certainly on a par or above. It’s going to be a great time of year for it.

“We’ve kind of swapped with the cup final. The availability of Newcastle comes in to play. It’s the weekend before the official summer holidays, and that’s why we can do Champion schools up there too – which is obviously harder to do in London.

“We’re trying to get Magic back to where it was the last time we were in Newcastle in 2018. We want to turn it back into that festival and return to normality as much as we can.”

Alternative solutions?

Question marks have been raised over attendances in the Challenge Cup so far.

The short notice of games is definitely an issue, but so is the repetitive nature of playing the same teams over and over.

Could Magic Weekend become the Challenge Cup quarter-finals?

You could have two on each day, potentially even with an 1895 Cup semi-final on each day too.

I would then go a step further and make the Challenge Cup draw alongside the fixture announcement – so if there are 11 teams in the last 16, they know whether they’ll have a home game in that round or not months in advance. They can then factor that in to ticket sales or even season tickets.

Then the other teams would be fighting for the five spots in the last 16 draw. Warrington, for example, might be drawn against ‘Team A’ who would be one of those five teams. You could get ‘Team B v Team C’ and all-Super League ties as per now too.

Of course, no idea is without its cons. Not having all 12 teams at Magic Weekend might put off some from attending, though that could be countered by Championship involvement.

There is also the same problem of fitting it in to the schedule.

If the cup final is remaining at the back end of May, then the Magic Weekend quarter-finals would need to be played in March – not a great time for holding a supposed festival event.

And getting the schedule for Magic Weekend out early is also key to driving ticket sales.

The schedule in 2022

  • May 7 – Challenge Cup semi finals @ Elland Road, Leeds
  • May 28 – Challenge Cup final @ Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London
  • Saturday July 9 – Magic Weekend @ St James’ Park, Newcastle – Tickets
    • Wakefield v Toulouse (2.30), Wigan v St Helens (4.45), Leeds v Castleford (7.00)
  • Sunday July 10 – Magic Weekend @ St James’ Park, Newcastle
    • Huddersfield v Salford (1.00), Catalans v Warrington (3.15), Hull KR v Hull FC (5.30)
  • Saturday September 24 – Grand Final @ Old Trafford, Manchester

MORE: Lost its magic? Looking at some of the issues raised by fans about rugby league

Challenge Cup v Magic Weekend – what do you prefer? And what is the solution for them to both successfully co-exist? Or are no changes necessary? Let us know in the comments below.