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Can Cardiff produce another Magic act?

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George Riley George Riley | 16:29 UK time, Thursday, 10 February 2011

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.

Fans get into the party spirit in CardiffThe 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.

Leeds celebrate a last-gasp win over Bradford in 2007Cardiff 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.


  • Comment number 1.

    Welcome back Mr Riley

    good effort to start with - nicely balanced keep up the good work

    one thing i would ask you to bear in mind and im pleased to see the BBC Sport website are doing something on this is that there Superleague isnt everything in RL- plenty of us follow Championship and Championship 1 - the standard in the championship is improving year on year and if the proposals for an enlarged comp from next year are approved then it will be more competitive still.

    I dont have a prob with MM - do understand some people reservations and it still needs more and better promotion for it to ever "really" succeed - timing this year isnt great either and going up against Prem football and 2 six nations games on the sat including Wales playing is a bit mystifying

    but i hope those that are going have a great time and for those not try some Northern rail cup RL - its well worth supporting

  • Comment number 2.

    Cracking blog George!

    Think this weekend is going to be a cracking start for this season and also as an advert for the game.

    Glad to see a sport that actually uses common sense, having Crusaders playing Sunday as to be on a separate day to the rugby union for Wales makes a lot of sense, may potentially be slightly more fans there on sunday just because of the Welsh influence.

    It seems each individual match has a story behind it.
    Warrington Huddersfield has the obvious story of how will Brett Hodgson adapt to his new team.
    Harlequins Catalans has a new coach for one team and the big loss of Dallas Johnson for Catalans and who can replace his defensive workrate from lock
    Cas and Wakefield has arguably done well to even get here looking at how much the Wildcats are struggling financially at the minute. Cas' much vaunted recruitment drive to offset the loss of Shenton will be put into practice too with the arrival of Isa/Mathers/Orr/Fozzard.
    Saints Wigan really says it all, a new era for Saints, no KC, will dual captaincy work with Graham and Wellens? Does the Maguire Machine keep on rolling along?

    Lets hope Iestyn gets off to a cracking start on home soil as another new 2011 coach. Luke Patten comes in for the Reds as one of the most consistent NRL full backs of the decade so can he reproduce it consistently down at The Willows?
    Leeds Bradford, enough said, McDermott now being the main man along with Potter at the Bulls. If nothing else lets hope the Rhinos wear the dashing pink away shirt!
    Hull KR Hull FC ends a fantastic weekend, Hull FC probably being the quietest winter team until the Tansey story broke and Hull KR have got big Willie, unfortunately not playing this weekend but what a prospect for his hits!

    Super League 2011, please start in style....

  • Comment number 3.

    My grandfather is turning in his grave to see league played on the former Arms Park

  • Comment number 4.

    Great to have the blog back, George, and it was a great blog to start the season off with!

    Two sleeps to Cardiff. Even though Saints are without Leon Pryce, so making our task on Saturday night even harder than it was already, I'm looking forward to what is my first Magic weekend and a festival of rugby league to die for.

    I hope the weekend will be a success on every level and that we enjoy seven competitive games of the best sport in the world.

  • Comment number 5.

    '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.'

    What are you talking about?

    Murrayfield is very near the centre of Edinburgh.

    So much so that I have been able to be in a pub near the castle 30 minutes before kick-off and walked to the ground in time to get to my seat before the game has started.

    The fact is that Welsh people are mote Rugby mad than Scots and it is more likely that you'll get the casual Welsh Rugby fan turning up.

    Plus the West Country is really near which is a massive Rugby hub. Albeit a Union hub but you still get those who watch both codes.

    As for myself. One game of Rugby League a month is enough for me. Any more and I'm bored.

    But for those who want more, this is clearly a great day out.

  • Comment number 6.

    Must add that the Superleague review show on 5 Live tonight was really enjoyable, even if there was too much Wigan in it for a Saints fan! Lots of humour, banter and discussion. Great stuff. Well done BBC!

  • Comment number 7.

    £25 for those 3 games on Sunday is the bargain ticket of the year and I'm a Union fan. Get yourself down to Cardiff.

  • Comment number 8.

    NinianFTW - League is being played at the Millennium mate, not the former Cardiff Arms Park...

  • Comment number 9.

    "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."

    So, it's basically a jolly for you working types? I think I would enjoy it a little more if I was there being paid. I thought the original thinking of this event was to take RL places where it could attract new fans - as far as I'm concerned this doesn't happen, as yet again the RFL marketing team have made a right bodge of it all - small billboards along the side of the motorway, which don't even mention Rugby League is hardly going to attract record crowds - I look forward to the ticket breakdown figures to see how many wee sold to residents of south Wales and the south west.

  • Comment number 10.

    Lazy blog in my opinion, full of regurgitated rubbish written elsewhere by other people who have a more authoritative voice on the game, such as Jon Wells.

    In fact your only opinions are that you would like to see Maldives Magic - original and funny and that Murrayfield isn't near enough to the City Centre of Edinburgh; clearly more rubbish spouted by people, the likes of whom complained about the fact that they couldn't stay and get stoated in the pub before the game, because it was "too far to walk/stagger" to the ground. Those of us that actually took the time to take in the City and enjoy the games we had paid for rather than frittering our hard earned in the ale house had a great time.

    It's also nice to see your blog laced with the usual Leeds bias, why no mention of any other teams' pre-season preparations? How about a bit about Bradford's resurgence off the field and interesting squad development on it?

    What about Wigan heading into the season with the ever growing Tomkins contingent and high expectations following their achieving, at last, the SL title?

    Anything on 'dark horses' Huddersfield and the excellent work that has happened at the Galpharm in the last couple of years?

    Nah, thought not but guess what, Fozzard does naked chin-ups and Riley spent the winter tweeting Pat Richards, i'm salivating about the season now then.

  • Comment number 11.

    Bob - Murrayfield isn't in the heart of the city like the Millennium Stadium, to suggest otherwise is simply ridiculous. In Cardiff, you're less than 5 minutes from a wider selection of bars, restaurants and hotels then you would find in the same area around Murrayfield. I'm not a fan of this concept at all, but bring on the RL - its been too long!

  • Comment number 12.

    One thing the RFL has always done is to use its initiative and has been very incisive with its approach.We were the first sport for sin-bins,blood-bins and the video ref system. MM weekend is another idea that the RFL needs to be applauded for but there are some problems with the organisation of it that really should have been ironed out by now (the 4th time of putting on such an event).

    1) no other games to be played that weekend.

    2) fill up the venue by any means possible

    3) make sure the locals have a chance to go

    1) To start the season with a showpiece event is fantastic but its must come across on t.v. as a vibrant,exciting and most important a popular event.A half empty venue is NEVER that right way to start a season especially when so many are watching on t.v. The RFL should have come to a compromise with the amateur game to cancel all games for this weekend,cancel all Championship and Championship 1 teams from playing.

    2) Sell the tickets for a £1 a piece for under 16's and pensioners and the rest for a tenner.
    Amateur clubs would be encouraged to send their junior teams for the day all for the price of the coach for the day and ,say, 20-30 kids at £1 each and 4/5 adults to look after them at £40-50.what other sport can advertise 3/4 games between the best sides in the sport(?) against each other for a £1.
    Remember that to stay over costs an arm and a leg with the price hikes that the hotels put on and in my opinion the Rfl doesnt make alot of money from the gate reciepts,that comes from the welsh tourist board and Sky.
    At the start of a game (5 mins before) and at half time have a draw for £500-£750 with the person with the winning seat ticket number has to get to the centre spot and take the kick off(not the real thing)within a certain length of time,the cameras could follow them on the big screen for a giggle witha bit of commentry from the pitch side presenters(maybe Barrie Mac and Tez O'conner..just a thought!).that way you make sure more people stay throughout the day,also get the junior teams to play small sided games at half & full time like they do at all Super League grounds.Again more people in and bums on seats.Its about bums on seats and presentation.

    3) if you are taking the event on the road and want to get interest from local people then choose a weekend when 30,000 fans of the other rugby code are at least in the country!!! i understand that most will not be interested but for £1 tickets maybe a few local kids would like to go and drag along their parents

    Rugby League is a great game and i know its easy from the outside to criticise but i truely believe that if we still had someone of the P.R. quality of Peter Deakin of Bradford Bulls and Saracens fame(R.I.P), this event would be rocking with lots of great off the field entertainment.

  • Comment number 13.

    @VillasTJ - There is a match between South Wales Scorpions and the Warrington Wolves u20s this evening (Friday) at Cardiff Arms Park. The Superleague matches are all being played at the Millennium Stadium.

  • Comment number 14.

    Some journalists hate it, too, because hotel and travel costs are so expensive. Personally, I love it.
    I find it unlikely that those journalists won't get paid expenses for their trouble.

  • Comment number 15.

    Looking forward to it big time. I enjoyed Murrayfield, Edinburgh is a beautiful city but the Millenium is definitely in the heart of the city. So much so that it's easy to pop out for a pint and back in again during HT or even if you're a bit bored of a particular game.

    You are not tied to your seat, you can come and go as you please. Some people seem to be insinuating you HAVE to watch every game. Due to being a ST holder, I got a weekend ticket for £17.50.....mindblowingly cheap!

  • Comment number 16.

    I am looking forward to it as it will be the first time I have watch League in the flesh. As I'm in Devon and we are all enjoying the Chiefs sucess in Union it will be interesting to see how my girlfriend finds watching a League game as a die hard Union convert!

  • Comment number 17.

    Great blog George (nice to see it on the front page too).

    I think moving MM to the start of the season is a great idea, better in a state of the art stadium with hopefully 30-40 thousand than some snow logged pitch with no atmosphere.

    Can't wait till the Super League season begins!

  • Comment number 18.

    Good blog, I think that the Millenium Magic is a fantastic event, and I will be watching as many of the matches as possible,

    A good as a signing Willie Mason is for Hull KR if he isn't even in the country he can be the best player in the world but he won't be playing so he is a non factor at the moment, and if he ever arrives it will probably be another month before he is up to full fitness, so he will probably miss at least a quarter fo the season before he even starts.

    As for the upcoming season I think Huddersfield have a genuine shot at getting to the Grand Final, Bradford will be significantly improved compared to the last 2 seasons, and may scrape the top 6, Wakefield will come bottom, and Salford might be the dark horses for getting into the top 8.

    Check out my blog at, next weeks post will probably be mainly focusing around Rugby League and the Millenium Weekend

  • Comment number 19.

    Just got back from Cardiff after watching the quins score a really gritty win over the dragons and watching the boys it really gave me a good feeling that whilst we will obviously not win the league this season we are not going to lay down and let teams walk over us and there are more LONDONERS i repeat more LONDONERS waiting in the wings NOT MORE AUSSIES

  • Comment number 20.

    Was anyone else as bored with this as me? I don't mean the games, they were great as usual. It's travelling all the way down to deepest Wales when there isn't even a South Wales team in the competition any more. And the scenes on the TV of empty seats over half the ground for every single game was a bad image to portray to the general public. Time to bring it back to the M62 corridor. Maybe a wekend of all Lancashire teams facing each other (including Cumbria) & all Yorkshire. Or a War of the Roses weekend with all fixtures being Lancs v Yorks teams.

  • Comment number 21.

    George, Mine is a voice from your dim and distant past. (Roundhay) Help needed - please contact all your listners and ask if there is a rugby world cup ticket out there that I can have. (I know it's the wrong code!) I've been unlucky in the ballot and not being at the final will not be a great end to my 2 months retirement present to myself. Have tickets to all pool games and up to and including quarter finals but corporate hosting seems to be grabbing too many tickets as usual.
    Stay well I'll be listening even if you can't help as I do enjoy the station. Geoff (Mr Drever)


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