Magic of Anfield attracts Super League back to Liverpool

SUPER LEAGUE'S annual attempt to broaden its horizons will take the game west rather than north next year when Liverpool stages a Magic Weekend for the first time.

England's Chris Hill and John Bateman celebrate victory over New Zealand at Anfield.
England's Chris Hill and John Bateman celebrate victory over New Zealand at Anfield.

Anfield has been confirmed as host venue for the 2019 event, on May 25 and 26, following the success of the 2016 Four Nations final there and this month’s Test when a crowd of 26,234 saw England clinch a series win over New Zealand.

It will be Magic’s fifth different venue following Millennium Stadium, Cardiff; Murrayfield in Edinburgh, Manchester’s Etihad Stadium and St James’ Park, Newcastle, which hosted the event from 2015-2018.

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Wakefield Trinity will open next year’s festival, which sees an entire round of Super League matches staged at one stadium over consecutive days, with a game against Catalans Dragons and Trinity coach Chris Chester admitted to mixed feelings about the move away from Newcastle.

“I think the Magic Weekend as a whole is exciting,” said Chester. “I loved it at Newcastle. I am not sure of the reasons why they’re not holding it there any more, but it has been great.

“It is right in the middle of the city and we have had a couple of good wins there as well, but to start off the Magic Weekend against the Challenge Cup winners will be a fantastic game for the neutral.”

The other fixtures of the opening day, which coincides with the Liverpool Marathon, will see Hull take on Huddersfield Giants in the weekend’s only all-Yorkshire clash before a Grand Final rematch between Wigan Warriors and Warrington Wolves. The second day commences with Hull KR facing Salford Red Devils before Leeds Rhinos play London Broncos and Castleford Tigers bring the curtain down with a game against St Helens.

That will be a repeat of Super League’s previous visit to Anfield, in 1997, with Castleford beaten 42-16 in front of a 12,329 crowd in a one-off ‘road’ game aimed at raising awareness of Saints in the city.

Recent Magic fixtures have been derbies of games designed to attract a big crowd, but next year’s are based on teams’ rankings in 2018.

Chester said: “I would prefer it if they just drew it out of a hat. That is probably the fairest way of doing it, but there has been quite a few mis-matches over the years and they will all be competitive games.”

Super League chief executive Robert Elstone left a similar role with Everton Football Club earlier this year and described Anfield as “one of the most famous stadiums in the world”.

He enthused: “Anfield and Liverpool Football Club have embraced our sport. Throughout all our discussions on the Magic Weekend they made it very clear to us they wanted that relationship to continue.

“The game should be proud that Anfield has become a rugby league venue. I would also like to thank Mayor Joe Anderson for his support for what will be a great weekend for Super League and the city of Liverpool.

“I had the privilege of working in the city for more than a decade and I know Super League fans will have a great time not only at Anfield, but in one of our country’s most vibrant and exciting cities.

“The place is special, it’s a perfect fit for the celebratory atmosphere of Magic.”

Many fans will be disappointed to see the event leave Newcastle, though St James’ Park could now come into contention for a Challenge Cup semi-final double-header next year.

“I’d also like to thank the City of Newcastle and Newcastle United for hosting the Magic Weekend so well over the past four seasons,” added Elstone.

“They’ve created so many great memories for Super League and our fans and have set the bar very high for Liverpool. Newcastle has inked its place into Super League history.”

Next year’s Magic Weekend fixtures in full are:

Saturday May 25 – Wakefield Trinity v Catalans Dragons (2pm); Hull FC v Huddersfield Giants (4.30pm), Wigan Warriors v Warrington Wolves (7pm).

Sunday May 26 – Salford Red Devils v Hull Kingston Rovers (1pm), Leeds Rhinos v London Broncos (3.30pm), St Helens v Castleford Tigers (6pm).

Away from Super League, the Rugby Football League have ended speculation over the future of the Challenge Cup final by confirming a new agreement which will see it continue to be staged at Wembley stadium until at least 2027.

Next year’s final will be the 15th to be played in August, but the annual showpiece will be brought forward to Saturday, July 18, in 2020.

The governing body have also announced a new competition, the 1895 Cup, to be held next year.

The tournament will be for clubs in the Championship and League One and will end in a final at Wembley on the same day as the Challenge Cup decider.

The idea is not completely new.

In 1987 lower division teams which fell at the first hurdle in the Challenge Cup entered a consolation Plate competition with a final played at Wembley as a curtain-raiser to the main event.

Hull KR demolished Hunslet 60-14, but the initiative was discontinued after one season.