Super League clubs are set to win their fight to earn Magic Weekend a reprieve as they converge on St James’s Park for the 16th edition of the six-game, two-day event that many feared was destined to be its last.
IMG, the sport’s new power-brokers, had made plain its intention to scrap the format and replace it with an unspecified alternative as a means to help reduce fixture congestion during the regular season.
But the almost unanimous enthusiasm of the sport’s top 12 clubs has made officials think again, and the return of the event in 2024 now looks to be secured, according to the Press Association.
Leeds coach Rohan Smith, whose injury-hit side face Castleford on Saturday, described the concept – which was copied by Australia’s NRL for the first time in 2019 – as “a great thing for our sport”.
A total of 62,154 fans watched the 2022 event, a slight improvement in the attendance from the previous year, despite the fact it involved two French clubs, Catalans and Toulouse, for the first time.
Smith said: “I love footy and I could watch game after game. So the concept of having three big games back to back, and then the next day coming back for three more, is great.
“It’s also great for the game to take it to a city that is not a traditional rugby league place, and grow the game that way.”
Magic Weekend kicked off in Cardiff in 2007 and has also been staged in Edinburgh, Manchester and Liverpool. Newcastle has staged all but one of the editions since 2015.
However, its future may lie away from St James’s Park given the likelihood that it will be pencilled in as late as August, which could clash with the football club’s commitments.
Leeds’ clash with Castleford on Saturday is preceded first by season surprises Hull KR taking on Salford, before Wigan meet Catalans for the first time since the Dragons’ stunning 18-10 win at the DW Stadium in March.
On Sunday, Wakefield target their first points of the season against Leigh before St Helens take on Huddersfield, then leaders Warrington round off the programme against Hull FC.
IMG’s purported ‘reimagination’ of the game, revealed in February, indicated its intention to axe Magic Weekend in its current format.
But the plan came into conflict with the clubs’ desire to protect their regular revenue streams, not least via a format that has proven to be profitable, as well as the positivity of supporters.
Saints coach Paul Wellens, who scored four tries to sink Wigan in the opening edition of the event in Cardiff in 2007, is another avowed fan of the format.
He said: “Having rugby league on the road and going to different places has been really healthy.
“I’m not sure what the plan is moving forward but I’ve always enjoyed the experience, and it is something I always loved when I was playing.”