The Magic Weekend is an annual event showcasing everything the First Utility Super League has to offer and every year it has been well attended and successful. This year the Rugby League carnival came to the North-East of England and Newcastle had the joy of hosting six matches over two days at one venue: St James’ Park. It did not disappoint.
A city widely known for its night life thanks to the exploits of Geordie Shore, outside of the North-East it is easy to forget the other alluring aspects of a vibrant city and area. Newcastle upon Tyne – to give its full name – has its own way of doing things. Located 120 miles south of Edinburgh and 280 miles north of London, the Geordies (a name given to those residing in or from Newcastle) have created their own identity. Football (Newcastle United) is the religion, chips and gravy the delicacy, and humour the native language. That said, there is no lack of things to do and see. Sitting within the county of Northumberland, the surrounding area retains its English backdrop of unspoilt greenery and hills as far as the eye can see. As you move towards the metropolitan area you are greeted with further breath-taking sights such as the Angel of the North – a steel structure of an Angel standing 20 metres tall and spanning 54 metres across. Yet the true treasures are reserved for when you enter the city. The Tyne Bridge, Millennium Bridge, The Quayside, Newcastle Castle, St Nicholas Cathedral, Grey’s Monument and Sage Gateshead are to name but a few landmarks that give the city its character. However it would be a sin not to mention St James’ Park among all of these famous sites and places. The heartbeat of Newcastle. The home of English Premier League side Newcastle United, the all-seater stadium holds just over 52,000 fans and has been the home of the former England Champions and 6-time F.A Cup holders since 1892. It has been used for the 2012 Olympics, 1996 UEFA European Football Championship, and now the Rugby League Magic Weekend.
First put on in 2007 at the Millennium Stadium thanks to funding by the Welsh Tourist Board, the event moved to Edinburgh and Manchester prior to 2015. It enabled the season to be reduced by one round and provided Super League with another opportunity to promote the game outside of the rugby league heartland. On that first weekend in Cardiff an aggregated attendance of 58,831 saw 6 matches of which 5 were local derbies and it was widely considered a success with fans, players, and staff alike enjoying the experience. It has continued to grow with Millennium Magic turning into Murrayfield Magic after the Scottish Tourist Board successfully bid for the event in 2009. Attendances dipped with the introduction of seedings instead of local derby matches, but in 2012 the Magic Weekend was moved to the Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City Football Club. Local derbies were quickly reintroduced and the move was justified with the largest aggregate attendance yet of 63,716 and grew to 64,552 in 2014. 2015 saw Newcastle take centre stage and 67,841 fans turned out in force to welcome the best of Rugby League to the North-East.
A significant aspect of the Magic Weekend is the rivalries and local derbies that play out on the pitch and in the stands. It adds a bit of spice to an already tasty weekend of big hits and flair. Saturday saw Salford Red Devils play Widnes Vikings, Hull FC take on Hull KR, and top of the table Leeds Rhinos versus third-placed Wigan Warriors. All three provided great entertainment and whilst all were hotly contested, Widnes Vikings, Hull FC, and Wigan Warriors took the spoils in their respective matches. Kieran Dixon’s 100 metre try and celebration were a highlight, whilst the free-flowing contest between Leeds and Wigan, as well as the performance of Matty Bowen will live long in the memory of those watching on Sky Sports or in the stadium. But what stood out more than anything was the atmosphere. The fans sang all day long and everyone was in good spirits. With alcohol flowing freely there was always likely to be unsavoury behaviour, however on the whole fans were good-natured and enjoyed the high quality competition. On the Sunday, the carnival continued with Catalan Dragons playing Huddersfield Giants, St Helens against Warrington Wolves, and the weekend closed with Castlefield Tigers and Wakefield Wildcats. The day started off in spectacular fashion with a 22-all draw as Catalan came from 16-0 down to lead 22-16 until Michael McGillvary scored in the corner with seconds remaining and Danny Brough slotted over the conversion with the last kick of the game. St Helens and Warrington played out an equally enthralling game next up as the ‘Saints’ won by four points. After which Castleford put an out of form Wakefield Wildcats to the sword 56-16. It was a captivating day of sport and the fans dutifully showed their appreciation. This was a re-occurring theme throughout the whole weekend. The support from the crowds matched the performances on the pitch and it was a wonderful experience seeing the Rugby League family come together in numbers to celebrate the best the sport has to offer in one of the finest stadiums the country has to offer.
The Magic Weekend is an event not to be missed and you don’t have to be a Rugby League fan to enjoy it. Whether you dabble in Rugby Union, enjoy an afternoon at the Football, or go crazy for Cricket, the Magic Weekend is something different. It provides a full two days of high-intensity top-level sport for the price of a child’s football ticket to most Premier League clubs, it is family-friendly with designated seating areas and a fan zone to entertain the kids between games, re-admittance is allowed so fans can pop in and out of the stadium at will, whilst the players and coaches, media personalities and celebrities willingly mingle with fans, pose for photographs and sign autographs inside and out of the ground. There aren’t many, if any, sporting occasions like it and the whole experience made me proud to follow Rugby League. It was a truly magic weekend.