1 Geordie Shore
Magic’s first time in Newcastle was a big hit with fans and players alike. We’ve had Edinburgh, we’ve had Cardiff and we’ve had Manchester. But there are few livelier cities in the UK, with great nightlife and cultural treats, and St James Park is a fantastic venue. The Newcastle community certainly embraced the concept with 67,788 turning up over the two days, a record crowd.
The RFL cops a lot of flak, sometimes warranted, but they deserve praise for selecting Newcastle. The facilities were great, the weather decent and the matches had their fair share of thrills and spills. Hopefully this can help rugby league grow in the area and the likes of Newcastle Thunder can build on it. It wouldn’t surprise if Magic Weekend is back in the north-east in 2017.
2 Controversy corner
Rugby league does love a bit of controversy doesn’t it? It was everywhere to see at Magic Weekend. The red card in the Salford game, the refereeing in the Huddersfield-Catalans clash, Brian McDermott taking aim at a journalist after his side lost to Wigan, Shaun Wane calling the ref a “f%$king bent bastard” during the Leeds game, you couldn’t escape it.
There were plenty of contentious calls and bits of play, like whether Scott Dureau should have been given a penalty try or not, to last a season. But sport needs great drama, it helps fuel it along, and Magic Weekend certainly dished it up. Some aren’t fans of the concept, and want it changed to a Nines competition, but it’s hard to see it being tinkered with when it continues to entertain and excite. Super League regularly brings in innovations from the NRL but Magic is a local invention, the competition’s big day out, that is unique. Long may it continue
3 Magnificent Matty
Matty Bowen has hardly played this season after losing his spot to Ryan Hampshire. But the little fullback showed his character with a terrific display on Saturday, helping Wigan to an important win over Leeds. Bowen was back to his eventful, attacking, thrilling best and showed those old legs can still motor.
Bowen isn’t the same player as he was at the height of his Queensland and Cowboys days, but he’s still a star. He’s copped plenty since arriving in Super League but you’d be far pressed to meet a more decent, dedicated and professional character. When he was dropped from the Warriors he didn’t throw his toys out of his pram, he continued to train hard and even helped the man who took over him at the back, Hampshire.
The old saying goes form is temporary, class is permanent. ‘Mango’ is one classy individual.
4 The Smiths
Brian Smith is back in the coaching seat after taking the vacant job at Wakefield. Smith has been out of he game since he left the Roosters in 2012 and a brief spell with the US national team. There’s few coaches with more experience then the 61-year old who started his career with the Steelers in 1984 and has coached Hull FC, St George, Bradford, Parramatta, Newcastle and Easts. In total that’s 604 games with a win rate of 52%.
While Smith has never won a grand final he has led the Eels and Dragons to deciders, and Bradford to the 1996 Challenge Cup final, and he’s regarded as a thinker and a good technician. He’s an old hand to hopefully lead Wakey out of the mire. Former Wildcats coach James Webster, who Smith is replacing, was funnily enough the connection for Smith to get the job as Webster played under him at Parramatta.
Amazingly, Smith has never coached against his young brother Tony, boss of Warrington. Tony has spent his whole career coaching in the UK, while Brian has had NRL jobs since 1997. There’s 13 years in age between the two siblings but the pair are close and it will be interesting to see them compete now as head coaches. Wakefield take on Warrington on July 12 and that should be a juicy clash.
5 Sloppy Salford
Where do you start with Salford? Another loss, this time against Widnes, their sixth in a row now. Yes they have been weakened by injuries and suspension, but you have to wonder about the planning and direction at the club. What is their vision? What are they trying to build?
Lama Tasi is off to St Helens next year, Tony Puletua has just gone to Hull KR and Kevin Locke is unwanted and has been treated poorly. Their own crowds have been poor and they’re out of the Challenge Cup. A large number of players are off contract and there could be another cleanout at the end of the year. Rebuilding a club takes time and changing half your roster every season doesn’t help. Stability and long-term planning are vital in a squad and that’s something the likes of St Helens, Leeds, Wigan and Warrington have.
Salford are now 11th on the table, one point behind Hull KR. They will have Rangi Chase back soon but I just can’t see them making the top eight. Their discipline is ordinary and they continue to leak too many points. Their next match against Saints on June 5 is virtually a must-win match. After that they face Wakefield, Wigan and Catalans. If Tim Sheens does depart from the Australian Kangaroos as expected, he may be put in charge at the AJ Bell Stadium unless Iestyn Harris can turn things around quickly.