THE world of Super League descended on Newcastle yesterday with general manager Blake Solly claiming the city will hold its maiden Magic Weekend with “record-breaking” success.
More than 40,000 supporters are expected at St James’ Park on Saturday, the first instalment of the annual roadshow that sees all dozen top-flight clubs take part at one venue over 48 hours.
The fact hosts Newcastle United avoided an unthinkable Premier League relegation on Sunday would no doubt have given organisers a massive lift – that could potentially have dampened the mood irrevocably in the football-mad city – and, so, they will now hope for a sizeable walk-up attendance on Sunday, too.
Nevertheless, Solly believes the signs are positive anyway as the concept arrives at its fourth destination following previous events in Cardiff, Edinburgh and, for the last three years, Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.
“All the indications are that this will be the most successful Magic Weekend ever,” he said, about an event first staged in 2007.
“We’ll have 40,000 people in here on Saturday, we’ve already sold 60,000 tickets in total – 20 per cent to people in the north-east region – so it will set attendance records, our biggest ever viewing audience and create the biggest economic impact for the city of Newcastle and surrounding regions, too.
“Super League clubs should be justifiably proud of what they have achieved. I thank them for the patience showed in building this; Magic has had criticism in its early years but what we have now is an event that will set a hell of a lot of records this weekend.
“When looking at bidders 13 months ago, we always felt Newcastle a city that would join the party; the region loves the sport.”
The fact that some clubs only sent players yesterday who won’t actually be playing come the weekend due to injuries can, then, perhaps be overlooked.
There was still a definite Super League presence in Newcastle and training does, after all, continue ahead of the main event as Hull FC coach Lee Radford illustrated by dispatching one of his assistants Richard Horne, the recently retired former Great Britain international who seemed still itching to get out on the perfectly-manicured grass for Saturday’s derby with Hull KR.
That, followed by leaders Leeds Rhinos’ battle with Wigan Warriors, is the main reason for such a bumper anticipated attendance for the opening day.
Yesterday, in amongst all the Super League superstars, the Magpies’ pitch was swarming with schoolchildren enjoying a golden chance to grace such an arena and proving that Newcastle clearly, indeed, isn’t only interested in football.
“For those that walked out on the pitch, it is clear to see the decision to choose Newcastle for Magic Weekend is a decision that’s already paying dividends,” added Solly, about an area which, of course, is not a traditional stronghold for the sport.
“For 200 young rugby league enthusiasts to set foot on St James’ Park and play rugby league is a huge attraction and it will do wonders for the sport in this region. The additional benefit of a resurgent Newcastle Thunder game on Friday night (v York) will leave a legacy of Super League here, too.
“We have also invested very heavily with the Sky Try programme – an initiative to get 700,000 people playing rugby league by 2021.
“To be able to do that in this region – to bring Magic here – gives an opportunity to turn those people who have participated in Sky Try rugby league into lifelong fans of what is a great sport.”
Solly believes the “new era” for the sport, with its altered format that sees the bottom four of Super League set to play-off with the Championship’s elite quartet in July, has proved a success.
He went as far as to say the season has been the “most compelling Super League of all time” given just six point seperate fourth from 11th. That is true but it is still open to debate about whether the closely-fought Super League standings actually equates to added quality or a more general levelling out of competitors.
What is unquestionable is that the best the competition has to offer will be on show in Newcastle this weekend.
As for 2016, the prospects are numerous; Manchester City only relinquished the Magic rights due to extension work on their ground this summer and they have said they want it back.
Solly said: “We know the Etihad want us to host us again and hopefully Newcastle will, too, but we’ll wait and see. But this is what we want for the sport, to create an event that a number of cities and towns in the UK want to host.”