Can Cardiff produce another Magic act?
Super League is back and, for the first time ever, the season starts with 14 teams playing seven matches over two days under just one roof.
The Magic Weekend returns to Cardiff, with the derby-day format restored and the Rugby Football League banking on a winter without rugby league to ensure a multitude of bums on Millenium Stadium seats.
After a couple of indifferent years at Murrayfield, there were suggestions that the RFL may ditch the Magic Weekend format. But the unique sporting occasions lives on and is back at its original home. And I can already picture the grimaces on the faces of the Welsh Rugby Union as they assess the state of their pitch ahead of their next home Six Nations match against Ireland on 12 March.
When I experienced the 2009 Magic Weekend in Edinburgh, my impression was that fans felt the atmosphere that had been generated at the Millennium Stadium was lacking at a Murrayfield venue that cannot boast the same city-centre location as Cardiff.
The Millennium Stadium can produce a wonderful atmosphere. Photo: Getty
Some players hate the Magic Weekend. They think it is a needlessly lengthy trip for what is in essence a routine league fixture. Others appreciate that this brainchild was not one born out of a desire to appease the players but one primarily designed to create an occasion for the fans.
Some journalists hate it, too, because hotel and travel costs are so expensive. Personally, I love it. With a bit of planning, you can indulge your love for the sport, do the job that pays the bills and catch up for a beer with the rugby league family at the same time. And given that Manchester hosts the Grand Final and Murrayfield and the Millenium Stadium have shared the Magic Weekend, I am hopeful the RFL will stick with their plan to expand the game and confirm Maldives Magic for next year...
I will be heading to Cardiff via Wigan's DW Stadium, which will host BBC Radio 5 live Sport's live preview show on Thursday. It is not politically correct for a league fan to admit pinching an idea from union but I did. Driving home from playing football last September, I listened to a brilliant 5 live Premiership preview show from the clubhouse at Bath Rugby. The boisterous audience and big-name bar guests made it terrific radio and I promised myself we must try to do something similar to launch Super League.
Luckily, the 5 live Sport editor is a big rugby fan so I was able to get the idea signed off, so here we are ready for a cracking night in Wigan. One thing I didn't expect when putting the arrangements in place was having to organise a babysitter for Adrian Morley to allow him to join our panel. I did suggest to Moz that, given his history at Wigan - he was sent off while playing for Great Britain only 12 seconds into their Test with Australia in 2003 - he would not be out for long enough for it to be an issue.
Since I last blogged, rugby league players have swelled in their numbers on social networking site Twitter. Castleford prop Nick Fozzard (@Fozzythebear1) is revelling in his role as a Twitter celebrity. He has found fame with his "facts of the day", including such pearls of wisdom as "apple pips contain cyanide" and "emus cannot walk backwards". I am also told Fozz has been impressing his new team-mates with naked chin-ups in the gym, a party piece from his Saints days. The Jungle just got scarier.
The two most recent Men of Steel - Pat Richards (@patrichards5) and Brett Hodgson (@BrettHodgson) - are keen tweeters, too. Indeed, Richards and I traded online blows during England's thumping cricket success in the Ashes. He has been a bit quiet since.
Huddersfield Giants may well be on their toes after the arrival of their new signings. Jamie Simpson finally touched down from South Sydney this week after his move was held up by the traditional paperwork problems. He is unlikely to feature in Cardiff, having only managed a couple of hours kip on his long-haul flight, but the Manchester United fan was awake long enough to spot Old Trafford from the sky. Simpson was well known for his practical jokes at the Rabbitohs and tried to pinch the false tooth of Ben Ross before he left only to find another joker had beaten him to it.
Cardiff has produced its fair share of dramatic moments. Photo: Getty
After a pre-season schedule of early-morning hill runs and endless fitness drills, the start of the season is a welcome relief for most players. I have seen a lot of Rob Purdham this winter, as I am helping the Harlequins captain with his testimonial year. Purdham had to go to Manchester for a hernia operation. The period of convalescence has allowed him the time to turn his hand to a bit of event management and he is trying to pull off a few great events for his testimonial season.
Leeds had an unusual pre-season as they bid to show the Super League trophy is only on a year-loan to Wigan after three successive Grand Final victories. New boss Brian McDermott proved he means business by cancelling a warm-weather camp in Cyprus in favour of a youth hostel in Swaledale. So instead of breakfast on their balconies, the Rhinos had to serve up porridge for each other. And instead of shuttle runs along the beach, the boys were sent to help the local farmer feed 400 sheep, build a dry stone wall and shovel manure. They may be wearing an eye-catching fluorescent pink away shirt this season but Leeds should be hard as nails.
I thought I would wrap up the first blog of the new season by asking fans on Twitter what one prospect excites them most this year. A lot of people highlighted the appearance of Willie Mason in a Hull KR shirt and ponder who his first victim may be. Former Castleford and London flyer Jon Wells (@the gingerbomber) reckons Castleford will come good this year and tips promising things for Rob Powell and Iestyn Harris, coaches of Harlequins and Crusaders respectively. Jon McCauley predicts a new beginning for St Helens, while Emma Louise Ellis cannot wait to see Gareth Hock back in the game after his ban.
The simple thing that excites me is that rugby league is now back every week until November. And that's magic.