Sport

Rugby League: Magic Weekend takes centre-stage as Manchester City prepare to host at the Etihad

By Ben Burrows

In recent years the balance of power in rugby league circles could be said to have been on the east of the Pennines, firmly in the Leeds Rhinos backyard.

The Blue-and-Gold boys have racked up four Super League titles in five years including a stunning triumph last season rising from a 5th placed finish in the regular season to be crowned winners once more.

They have also become World Champions three times including this year’s defeat of NRL Premiers, Manly Sea Eagles in February.

These Super League-NRL crossover games have been played in West Yorkshire at Elland Road with Leeds United’s home ground used for several Four Nations international clashes in recent years also.

So you could be forgiven as a Mancunian for casting envious and perhaps jealous looks across the Pennine divide.

Until now.

Magic is upon us and for the first time the showpiece of rugby league will return to its roots as the annual Magic Weekend comes to Manchester this May.

All 14 Super League teams have the chance to face off over the weekend of May 26 and 27.

The event will showcase some epic matchups with historic rivalries taking centre stage over the weekend.

Hull FC take on bitter rivals Hull KR on Saturday, Leeds face near neighbours Bradford Bulls and the weekend’s climax is the eagerly awaited Wigan-St Helens derby clash on the Sunday evening.

The event, which has been held in both Wales and Scotland in recent years, is expected to attract a big following from rugby-mad Mancunians.

Super League Chief Executive Nigel Wood is very excited about the event.

“The Magic Weekend is sport as it should be – a wealth of intense, and in many cases, historic rivalries played out in a fantastic venue.

“There are some fantastic matches in store and I’m sure we are going to see some bumper crowds at the Etihad Stadium as Super League builds on the success of Magic Weekends at Murrayfield and Millennium Stadium.”

Blake Solly, RFL Director of Standards and Licensing is delighted that Magic is coming to Manchester.

“We feel Manchester is a strategic priority for the sport,” he said. “It’s an exciting year for us in Manchester. We’ve got the new stadium in Salford, we’ve opened the World Cup office in MediaCity, we have the Grand Final at Old Trafford as usual and the Man of Steel event will be held in Manchester too.”

Easter sees a bumper weekend of fixtures with local rivals doing battle on Good Friday. Most teams then have to turn around and recover for another game on Easter Monday too.

Mr Solly explained how the new timing of Magic aims to capitalise on the buzz around the Easter games.

“For a lot of reasons it made sense to bring it back. While the February kick off at Millennium was great, the event works better late spring. The derby games we have at Magic build off the great games we have over Easter.”

He added: “They create a lot of interest in the sport and these Magic fixtures supplement that.”

On the subject of Manchester as a venue for top class sport, he said: “It’s a good city for the sport to be showcased in. Through the success of the Rhinos over the last decade, people identify Leeds with rugby league.

“As a result perhaps Manchester is a market we haven’t exploited to its full potential – Magic is a step in the right direction.”

In the offseason the RFL negotiated a restructured television deal with broadcasting giants Sky and Mr Solly says that Magic was a key piece in the puzzle.

“Sky think we are more popular than we ever have been with the increased TV deal, and crowds are up in a pretty difficult time,” he said. “I think we have had a good six months to twelve months with the great end to Super League last year.”

He added: “Magic has been a success in terms of bringing new people to the sport, creating an event for Super League fans that they want to attend and enjoy and the TV viewership on Sky. They love it and it was a big factor in us getting an increased TV deal because they think Magic works for them as a product.”

The weekend-long spectacular is an affordable way for rugby league rookies to get a taste of the sport with weekend tickets starting at as little as £45.

Mr Solly said: “If you’re not a fan of the sport what better way to be introduced to it than seeing seven great games and the atmosphere that rugby league fans create and how they pack a stadium.

“I think it’s brilliant value when you can see seven games – or four games or three games if you just wanted to go for one day – for the prices we are charging.”

Mr Solly is really passionate about the Magic concept and epitomises the forward thinking of the RFL on pushing the boundaries of the sports potential.

“It’s a fantastic occasion and event really because even if your team aren’t playing you’ve got a great spectacle on the pitch and then you’ve got fourteen sets of fans coming to the one place over a weekend to enjoy rugby league at its best,” he said.

 “We are showcasing the best games with the best atmospheres. Two sets of great rival fans can watch their teams play but do it in a way that is welcoming for families and people who are new to the sport.

 “There is no better way to get involved – if you like rugby league already there are seven matches of the highest quality and intensity, and if you are new to rugby league it’s a fantastic, affordable way to watch the sport at its best, in an atmosphere that is different and is so much more enjoyable than a lot of other sports.”

Magic tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting www.rugbyleaguetickets.co.uk or over the phone on 0800 856 1113.

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