George Riley's #magicweekend review
The Saturday of this year's Magic Weekend was probably the best day the sport has ever had at a Magic event since the concept was introduced. Record-breaking crowds, uncharacteristically glorious Manchester sunshine, and four brilliant of examples of why rugby league is so watchable.
The bottom line is that this is now an event for the fans, and without the travel to Cardiff and Edinburgh, Manchester City's Etihad Stadium again played host to a memorable two days. Sunday's action was, in all honesty, a disappointment. All three fixtures were one-sided as Bradford faded after their bright start against Huddersfield, Wakefield were easily tamed by the Tigers, and St Helens missed their chance to go top as they were wounded by the Wolves. The day was nonetheless hugely enjoyable as BBC 5 live hosted the show live from the touchline, around commentary of the Giants win over Bradford. This is the biggest buzz I get from broadcasting, with unrivalled access to the sport I love providing the perfect platform to convey the colour and intensity of the occasion to a national audience not used to listening to rugby league on a Sunday afternoon. From our presenting position in front of the Huddersfield bench we were able to hear the thud of every big hit, listen to the communication between coaching staff and physio and see first-hand how much the players need patching up when they come off the pitch. Such was the heat that the physio’s bag of magic including rehydration sachets along with the various lotions, potions and strapping. Eorl Crabtree came off twice with blood pouring from different wounds and on neither occasion realised he was bleeding. The big prop was somewhat surprised when I pointed out the red liquid pouring from his right arm, less so another huge whack to the nose in the second half.
Speaking to the Bulls coach Francis Cummins afterwards, he had the sound of a man fully appreciative of the mountain his team must climb to preserve their Super League status. Yet despite their thumping loss, Cummins spoke with pride at the effort shown of a team of walking wounded asked to play in unfamiliar positions. He says they have to believe they will survive. Another coach under pressure, Lee Radford, told me after their derby defeat on Saturday that both their form and league position this season just aren’t good enough. With only Salford, Wakefield, Bradford and London below them, Hull badly need a win. They’re away at Leeds next and Radford will appreciate the pressure on his own position will be growing.
As for the future of the Magic Weekend, it is here to stay but whether that will be at Manchester City remains up in the air. The Premier League champions will expand their stadium at the end of next season which may mean an alternative venue is required. The good news is there is plenty of interest in this proven product. Whether it still accurately serves its initial purpose in pushing to expand the sport to new areas is open to debate, but what it has produced is a third Cup Final occasion alongside the Challenge Cup and Grand Finals. The big stadium, the big crowds, the Premier League facilities and the big-match experience gives the players and fans an opportunity to sample the big stage. And for some of those who may not reach Wembley or Old Trafford, that is a real buzz.