So, the Millennium Magic has been and gone and every man and his dog have aired their opinions on how good the weekend actually is. And that’s how it should be – as I wrote last week, debate is great for the game. If you went, I hope you had a great time, irrespective of your team’s results; and if you didn’t, I’m sure you enjoyed the television coverage.
My final opinion on this for this year is that if the event is to roll into a sixth year, that the RFL must keep the same format and keep it in the same slot. No good brand can be developed if it incurs constant change. This particular event has already had two timeslots (May and February), two names (Millennium Magic and The Magic Weekend), two fixture formats (derbies and a random draw) and two venues (Cardiff and Edinburgh).
My opinions on Magic remain the same – principally that it is an event only for the diehard, and not one to convert a non-League fan into seeing the light, but it seems to have more supporters than detractors and if a better marketing campaign can attract a bigger turnout, then it might start producing the results the RFL would have hoped for back in 2007.
Double headers have been mentioned as an alternative, but why not earmark another weekend in the season for those, or even play the quarter- or semi-finals of the Challenge Cup as a quadruple- or double-header somewhere, preferably in the heartlands.
As for the action, I enjoyed every minute – well, apart from the few hundred penalties in the Cas-Wakey game. Any lack of quality throughout the weekend was probably down to it being the first week of the season, but six of the games were exciting to me. The things I was most impressed with were the defensive standards reached by Harlequins and Wigan – although the Warriors couldn’t quite manage to maintain them for the full game – as well as the displays by Huddersfield, the Crusaders, Hull KR and even Bradford in defeat.
I wrote last week that the Bulls will be the big improvers in the competition and even they threw away that big lead against Leeds, they showed enough to make me even more certain they’ll propel themselves back in the top eight. They look to have made some very good signings, but the best decision they made was to recruit Mick Potter as coach.
The Australian took some unfair criticism for becoming the first Saints coach in the Super League era not to land a trophy but he led them through a tough period of transition, having to blood numerous kids along the way. Look at their squad in 2009 and you’ll see that they only had 17 experienced players, so it took just one injury and they were having to play an Academy product. Therefore, two Grand Final appearances was a pretty decent return given the squad he had to work with. As well as that, look at the miracles he performed in France with the Catalans, taking them to Wembley and into third place. He’s one of the best coaches in the game, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bradford back in the top four.
Finally, I can’t wait for the World Club Challenge. Having lost three of them now – in 1994, 2001 and 2007 – there’s no way Wayne Bennett will want to do anything other than return to Australia with the trophy and, incidentally, they’re the only finals he’s ever lost as a head coach. Wigan, similarly, will be desperate to become the first club in the world to win the crown for a fourth time. The Dragons have named a great looking squad for the game, and I’m sure the DW Stadium will be a great place to be on 27 February. I reckon the Warriors will be sending Wayne back home empty handed again.
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also check out Richard’s website of rugby league articles from 2005 to 2011 – www.richarddelariviere.co.uk