Super League: The five highest Round One attendances in competition’s 28-year history with Hull Derby set to enter list

Ben Olawumi
Hull derby, 'The five highest Super League Round 1 attendances ever'

A look at the five highest Super League Round 1 attendances ever - Alamy

The 2024 Super League season is just a couple of days away, with a big crowd expected at the Hull derby on Thursday night which kicks off the campaign. But what do the derby, and the five other Round 1 games, have to live up to attendance wise?

With the dawn of the IMG era and everything that’s gone on off the field to develop our game, 2024 is being billed as rugby league’s biggest year in this country for some time.

Ultimately, the success will depend on getting more eyes on the sport. Of course, that means through TV deals, sponsorships and promotions, but clubs want to see more people at games live in the flesh.

If the figures being banded about for the derby on Thursday night ring true, the crowd will be significantly higher than the 15,383 at FC’s opening round game against Castleford Tigers this time last year.

It’s also going to be a comfortably higher figure than the Black and Whites’ average Super League home attendance at the MKM Stadium in 2023 – 12,355.

The last time Hull KR made the trip to the west of the city, in Round 5 of the 2023 season, almost 21,000 were in attendance.

Anything similar, and – as we examine below with a look at the five highest opening round game attendances in Super League‘s 28-year history to date – records could be broken.

Note that we’ve had to exclude 2011’s Round 1 games from this list as they all took place at Magic Weekend in Cardiff, with over 29,000 at both days of the event that year.

For clarity, if we’d used the Round 2 games from 2011, the highest attendance figure was 15,438 – at Bradford Bulls v Wigan Warriors – and that wouldn’t have been enough to make the cut for this top five anyway.

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Super League: The five highest Round One attendances in competition’s 28-year history with Thursday’s Hull Derby set to enter list

5. Hull FC v Leeds Rhinos – 17,080 (2005)

Marcus Bai
Marcus Bai scores a try for Leeds Rhinos against Hull FC in Round 1 in 2005 – Alamy

Thursday night’s derby – all being well – will provide Hull’s best opening round home attendance since this clash on the opening night of Super League X 19 years ago.

Just over 17,000 were in attendance on a mild evening at the MKM Stadium, then known as the KC Stadium, to watch the Black and Whites take on Leeds.

The Rhinos – who had won the previous year’s title – raced into a 12-2 lead come the break, and though Hull – who had ended 2004 in 3rd – rallied at the restart, Leeds did just about enough to record a 16-12 triumph.

4. Bradford Bulls v Wigan Warriors – 17,267 (2004)

Robbie Hunter-Paul
Robbie Hunter-Paul in action for Bradford Bulls against Wigan Warriors in 2004 – Alamy

The year prior, 17,267 flocked to Odsal to see a re-run of the 2003 Grand Final on the opening night as reigning champions Bradford hosted Wigan, the team they’d seen off at Old Trafford just a few months earlier.

Brian Noble’s side had beaten NRL kings Penrith Panthers on home soil the week before in the World Club Challenge, and got their Super League title defence off to a flyer with a 34-6 win.

With Aaron Smith and Michael Withers also on the scoresheet, Lesley Vainikolo set a new Super League record that night, scoring five tries in one game. 20 years on, it’s now a Wigan man who holds that record with Bevan French scoring seven in one top flight game against Hull FC back in 2022.

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3. Paris Saint-Germain v Sheffield Eagles – 17,873 (1996)

Sheffield Eagles, Paris Saint-Germain, 1996
A Sky TV camera follows the Sheffield Eagles players around the pitch away against Paris Saint-Germain in Super League’s first-ever match back in 1996 – Alamy

The very first game of Super League makes the cut for the top five, and it involved two clubs who are no longer involved in it!

Close to 18,000 ventured along to Stade Sébastien Charléty in Paris back in March 1996 to watch PSG take on Sheffield, with hopes high for the newly-created ‘European Super League’ (no, not that one!)

Sadly, the French outfit disbanded after just two seasons, proving financially unviable. Most of the 17,873 at this first game at least did have something to shout about, with PSG 30-24 victors, topping Super League come the end of the competition’s first-ever night in action.

2. Toronto Wolfpack v Castleford Tigers & Leeds Rhinos v Hull FC – 19,500 (2020)

Toronto Wolfpack, Castleford Tigers, Leeds Rhinos, Hull FC
2020 Super League Round 1 Headingley double-header – Left: Toronto Wolfpack v Castleford Tigers; Right: Leeds Rhinos v Hull FC – Alamy

By the virtue of probabilities, this double-header was always going to place highly, and so it’s proved with being the 2nd-most attended Round 1 game ever.

When Toronto were promoted up to Super League, the idea was for the Canadian outfit to take their first few ‘home’ games on the road, starting with this Round 1 game against Castleford at Headingley, which ended 28-10 to the Tigers.

Of course, that result would eventually be null and voided when Toronto withdrew from Super League and the British game just a few months later when the COVID-19 Pandemic brought financial complications.

On the day though, Leeds followed it up with their own Round 1 clash against Hull. It was a day for double away joy as the Black and Whites ran out 30-4 winners. 19,500 was the combined attendance recorded.

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1. Wigan Warriors v Warrington Wolves – 21,693 (2007)

Wigan Warriors, Warrington Wolves
Wigan Warriors and Warrington Wolves do battle in the snow at the JJB Stadium in Round 1 of Super League in 2007 – Alamy

The highest-ever attendance at a Round 1 game was back in 2007, when an all-North West clash between Wigan and Warrington at the then-known JJB Stadium attracted 21,693.

Neither side had much to shout about going into it, with 2006 seeing Wigan miss out on the play-offs altogether and Warrington squeezing in only to be beaten by Bradford in the semi-finals.

2007 would eventually see the roles reversed, though Warrington were the winners in Round 1 with a 16-10 success away from home. 12-2 up at the break after tries from Vinnie Anderson & Richie Barnett, Lee Briers tagged two penalties on in the second half. Mark Calderwood & David Vaealiki were the pair on the scoresheet for the hosts.

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