Manchester is the only place to be this weekend if you’re a Rugby League fan, as the Etihad stadium prepares to stage 7 Super League games across 2 days. The Magic Weekend is now in its 8th season, and despite calls for a change of venue, the games will be played for a 3rd consecutive year at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. If the Magic Weekend is going to play a key role in fulfilling the World Cup legacy of reaching out to new fans of the game, the games may have to be relocated in future years to non rugby-league areas: something the RFL tried to achieve in previous years having staged the event in Cardiff (2007-08, 2011) and Edinburgh (2009-10). So where should the matches be staged next?
Anywhere in the south of England, actually. With the sport primarily being based in the north, the RFL has done all it can over the years to raise awareness of the game and attract new fans in the South. The Magic Weekend could be the perfect solution. With the Challenge Cup Final having been held at Wembley regularly since 1946, and last year’s World Cup semi-finals attracting over 67000 spectators to the ground, adding another London date to the Rugby League calendar could work perfectly. The move could also potentially rejuvenate support for the London Broncos, as their fan base has declined in recent years.
With the Catalan Dragons flying the French flag in Super League, expanding the interest of the game across the channel must be one of the RFL’s long term objectives. Stadiums in Avignon and Perpignan sold out their World Cup group fixtures last year, suggesting there’s definitely an appetite amongst the French Rugby League fan base for the big occasion. British fans would also be more likely to make the trip to watch 6 games over 2 games instead of their team’s regular away fixture against the Dragons. Finding the perfect stadium to host the event could prove problematic, however. The south of France is where the French Rugby League community is based, so finding a big enough stadium in the region would be key.
The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was the birthplace of the Magic Weekend in 2007, or as it was dubbed back then ‘Millennium Magic’. The move sought to increase the popularity of the sport in Wales, with an interest in introducing a Welsh team, the then Celtic Crusaders, to Super League in 2009. Since then the Crusaders have left the Super League, being replaced by the North Wales Crusaders in the Championship. Another Welsh team, the South Wales Scorpions play in Championship 1. Having slightly faltered, reintroducing the Millennium Magic weekend could rejuvenate the sport’s popularity in Wales. With 15 of Wales’s 2013 World Cup squad currently playing in Super League, there would be plenty of Welsh talent to showcase to local fans. The 3 Millennium Magic weekends in previous seasons have always proved very popular with fans, and hosting the fixtures once more at the Millennium Stadium could be a good move.
The problem with Rugby League in Ireland is that it’s a small shadow in the path of its overbearing Union brother. One way to tackle this would be to host the Magic Weekend in one of the countries big cities. Thomond Park in Limerick, home of Rugby Union side Munster, was deemed one of the successes of last year’s World Cup when it hosted a group game between Ireland and Australia in a non Rugby League hotspot to an attendance of just over 5000. If a long standing legacy of the World Cup is to be realised, this needs to be followed up. One option would be to stage the Magic Weekend in the country. Croke Park in Dublin would be an ideal venue, with plenty of British fans likely to make the trip over to the Irish capital. Ireland have been represented in the past 3 World Cups, however, finding an Irish accent in those teams is difficult. Setting up grass roots foundations for the sport and a professional league in the country are long term goals, but hosting the Magic Weekend in Ireland could be a big step towards achieving these.
There is no way the RFL will be staging the Magic Weekend in the USA anytime soon, but the suggestion may not be as ridiculous as it first appears. Team USA were one of the big successes of the Rugby League World Cup last year after the Tomahawks surprised everyone by making it through to the Quarter Finals. The NFL in America has hosted games at Wembley Stadium in London since 2007, with 3 NFL fixtures set to be staged in the English capital later this year. Last year 83 519 fans saw the Minnesota Vikings beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley. The big difference is the fan base for American Football in the UK is far greater than the fan base of Rugby League in America. Two amateur leagues currently run in the states, with the USARL looking to set up a professional league in the future. The expense and travel would ultimately prove unpopular with British fans reluctant to make the trip across the Atlantic, but if the Magic Weekend is still going strong in 50 years time, you never know.
The 2014 Magic Weekend takes place this weekend 17th/18th May at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester.
Tickets are still available for both days.
Saturday fixtures: London v Catalan (12:30), Widnes v Salford (14:45), Hull KR v Hull FC (17:00), Wigan v Leeds (19:15)
Sunday fixtures: Wakefield v Castleford (12:30), Huddersfield v Bradford (14:45), Warrington v St Helens (17:00)
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