Two issues for the price of one: The Kiwis and Magic Weekend

Steve Mascord Columnist

By Steve Mascord, Steve Mascord is a Roar Expert

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34 Have your say

    This week I couldn’t make up my mind whether to write about Magic Weekend or the Kiwis – so I’m going to have a bet each way.

    It’s fascinating but still predictable to see Australian fans whinging about an entire round being moved to Suncorp Stadium, even when they’ve presumably known about it for almost a year.

    Or maybe it’s true that no-one reads the papers anymore. More likely no-one believes them.

    With Sydney being given the grand final until 2042, Brisbane had to be assuaged somehow. It’s Brisbane, remember, that pays for all the games Sydney doesn’t want – principally World Cup and Four Nations finals but also double-headers transferred from suburban grounds that would be no more than half full if the events had stayed there.

    The Queensland Government basically foots the bill for there being too many teams in Sydney – repeatedly. They deserve something in return.

    Now, there have actually been sellouts in Sydney this year – it’s bloody amazing. But Sydney fans don’t really want or need their favourite rugby league team to play anywhere near them because most of them won’t go watch anyway.

    The NRL rates great on TV, its pop culture ‘hotness’ reading seems to be slowly but steadily increasing (this happened in the Tina Turner years and immediately after the Super League War because, let’s face it, it was 40-below during that imbroglio) but – as Warrington owner Simon Moran said at the media conference of the ‘other’ Super League last week – empty seats on TV send a terrible message to those thinking of investing in the game.

    NRL Finals empty seats

    Is there anything worse than an empty stadium? (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    Sydney NRL games are therefore prime candidates to be sold off – as is happening incrementally more often every year – Wellington, Orange, Perth, Adelaide, Mackay, Christchurch. It makes perfectly good sense.

    Sydney fans don’t need to be able to go to humdrum home-and-away matches because they don’t take the opportunity when it’s presented.

    The clubs have glamorous IP which will have more cache in the marketplace when the stands are full at far-flung outposts while the Sydneysiders watching on TV hardly notice the difference.

    There’s no need to relocate these teams – just share them around the country, Australasia and the world and get the perfect combination of sky high TV ratings and full stands.

    Toronto have said publicly they intend to play as many as six ‘home’ games on the road next year. They plan to be the Harlem Globetrotters of rugby league while their home town is in deep freeze.

    Sydney’s NRL clubs would do well to follow their example. Who knows, if one of gets enough devotees in a new area and gets into enough trouble at home, relocation might happen?

    One more thing on this: why not bar club football from every city hosting an Origin match for the duration of the series? Take the entire comp out of Sydney and Brisbane (at a minimum) for six weeks. That way the NRL is promoting Origin in other markets, not competing with it.

    Another problem solved.

    Now, Kiwi league presenter Sam Ackerman said to me a couple of weeks ago on Trackside Radio that we may be entering an era where players make themselves available for big tournaments and not one-off Tests or tours.


    (NRL Photos/Grant Trouville)

    Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s decisions suggest he is right but … is this just a Kiwi thing? And even if it is, is it a pointer to the future for the others?

    Certainly the urgency with which England’s NRL players are treating Saturday’s game in Denver suggests the problem is a team-culture issue for Michael Maguire to solve – or a case of some players looking at the pay cheque while others don’t.

    But remember – until a few years ago, the Australian team was beset by voluntary withdrawals too, until Mal Meninga came in and focused on making these blokes interested again.

    Whether or not all players will eventually go the way of the Kiwis who chose club over country, there’s one way to slow the process: Tonga.

    Any game that seems in danger because of participant apathy, just put Tonga in that game. It doesn’t seem to be a problem for them.

    I’d be signing them up for Denver 2019 as the Kiwis’ replacements now if I was Jason Moore.

    Steve Mascord
    Steve Mascord

    Steve Mascord has covered rugby league in 15 countries and worked for most media organisations that regularly feature the sport, on both sides of the globe. He started off as an 18-year-old cadet at Australian Associated Press, transferring to the Sydney Morning Herald just in time to go on the last full Kangaroos Tour in 1994. He spent three years at Sydney's Daily Telegraph from 2006 before going freelance at the conclusion of the 2008 World Cup. Steve is the author of the book Touchstones, host of the White Line Fever podcast, partner in international rugby league merchandise start-up Mascord Brownz, and proprietor of, and He is married to Sarah and splits his time between London and Sydney.

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    The Crowd Says (34)

    • Roar Guru

      June 19th 2018 @ 6:41am
      BA Sports said | June 19th 2018 @ 6:41am | ! Report

      I haven’t seen many people complaining about losing a home game because of Magic Round.
      My beef is that it works in the Super League because the fans will create an atmosphere through their singing, chanting etc. regardless of who is playing. But in Australia when there are two teams playing, for which the majority of the crowd don’t care about (which will happen when you have a triple header), it means people will be coming and going constantly from their seats, spending a lot of time on their social media accounts and generally talking among themselves an dnot paying much attention to the games.

      For the TV audience it will be like watching the NSW Cup matches with no crowd noise, For the attendees it will be an underwhelming experience. I don’t think it sells the game particularly well on either front..

      • Roar Guru

        June 19th 2018 @ 9:41am
        Nat said | June 19th 2018 @ 9:41am | ! Report

        Not true BA. Obviously Brisbane will have the majority of fans on Friday but plenty of clubs enjoy massive support up north. I’ve heard the Saints song in full cry at the Caxton and (at a guess) 35/40% of the crowd donned the Red V. Cowboys, Souths, NZ and even the Sharks (now they’re a winning club) are tuning out. Brisy has a population of 2m, then throw in the GC and plenty support other clubs but moreso fans like good footy and will cheer for good plays, irrespective of the club.

        Further, this is an event. Look at the rugby 10s, it sells out a 3 day event in brutal summer heat and only a few for the Reds. People in Brisbane are crying out for daytime footy. If Brisbane get 30k+ to night time games, add 10,000’s of kids/families who can go on Saturday or Sunday and it will be a great atmosphere.

        • Roar Guru

          June 19th 2018 @ 1:43pm
          BA Sports said | June 19th 2018 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

          I don’t doubt there is plenty of support for non Brisbane clubs in Brisbane. But when 6 teams are playing in one day, that dilutes those numbers. ‘
          And I don’t doubt they will get good numbers to the game – I just think between having no vested interest in at least 2/3 of the games they are watching and the attention span of humans; there will be little atmosphere created by the crowd.
          Hope I am proved wrong.

          • Roar Guru

            June 19th 2018 @ 3:10pm
            Nat said | June 19th 2018 @ 3:10pm | ! Report

            Yeah of course those there for the event will not cheer as loud as specific team supporters but they will/should appreciate good footy.Big hits and fast backs will get a reaction from footy fans but no where near the ESL singing and chants (TBH, I sat in the chookpen with a mate a last year and I was impressed with the constant chants that doesn’t get picked up on TV) Plus with the configuration of the roof over the stands the sounds seems to resonate with even a decent cheer. Obviously I can’t make promises but I’m confident it will be supported well.

      • June 19th 2018 @ 10:17pm
        Fraser said | June 19th 2018 @ 10:17pm | ! Report

        You know what adds atmosphere to a crowd? People like you, getting off their high horse, getting a few mates together (large assumption there), and getting out to the games to help create the atmosphere!

        It’s such a typical Sydney-centric attitude that the people of Brisbane won’t care about games that the Broncos aren’t playing in. Of course they will – they want to watch quality rugby league. Let’s not also forget the fact that a huge amount of people in Brisbane can’t stand the Broncos.

        If you can’t tell, I’m all for the Magic Weekend. I’ll be heading home from NYC to be there with my brother and my friends, and I can’t wait!

    • June 19th 2018 @ 6:48am
      Gurudoright said | June 19th 2018 @ 6:48am | ! Report

      I wonder how many people in Denver will go to the test match because they will see “New Zealand” and “rugby” league and think the All Blacks are playing.

      • June 19th 2018 @ 7:30am
        RandyM said | June 19th 2018 @ 7:30am | ! Report

        the all blacks are famous in denver are they? lol okay….

        • June 19th 2018 @ 9:05am
          Steve said | June 19th 2018 @ 9:05am | ! Report

          Not famous, but certainly a lot of the public would know who they are, Denver has a decent sized rugby community and sports community. I’m going on Saturday, can’t wait, taking along a few work mates.

        • June 19th 2018 @ 9:23am
          rugby365 said | June 19th 2018 @ 9:23am | ! Report

          at the start most thought it was then they realised it wasn’t the abs hence why only about 14k tickets have been sold.

          • June 19th 2018 @ 1:45pm
            Cathar Treize said | June 19th 2018 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

            Well if they get a game like the 2013 RLWC semi at Wembley between these 2 countries then I think they’ll get over it not being the All Hacks!

            • June 19th 2018 @ 2:50pm
              rugby365 said | June 19th 2018 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

              with the team the kiwis are take over I seriously doubt it will be anywhere near that game.
              Mind you if it was the all blacks it would have been sold out.

          • June 20th 2018 @ 1:26am
            Milan said | June 20th 2018 @ 1:26am | ! Report

            A big up to rugby365, our roving reporter live from Denver with all the latest breaking news and views from the man on the street on Saturdays test match.

            Lets meet again on Sunday rugby365 to see if your 14k was accurate or not. That’s if your man enough of course

            • June 20th 2018 @ 7:32am
              Rugby365 said | June 20th 2018 @ 7:32am | ! Report

              Latest update for you Milan from the game caller himself. Currently 18k tickets sold, expect crowd 20k. 20k short of the promoters minimum expectations. Gonna look great with 56k empty seats

            • June 20th 2018 @ 9:22am
              rugby365 said | June 20th 2018 @ 9:22am | ! Report

              Don’t you worry yourself sweetheart I’ll be here sunday.

        • Roar Guru

          June 19th 2018 @ 9:44am
          Nat said | June 19th 2018 @ 9:44am | ! Report

          The All Blacks are known globally. I have first hand experience from people in Italy, Germany North and South America etc whose only association to ‘Rugby’ (no knowing the difference between RU & RL) have heard of the All Blacks.

    • June 19th 2018 @ 7:56am
      Paul said | June 19th 2018 @ 7:56am | ! Report

      “The Queensland Government foots the bill for there being too many teams in Sydney – repeatedly”. How much do they pay Steve and to whom do they pay it?

      You’re assuming there’s going to be a full stadium for 3 days? What if there’s not?

      What guarantee do I have as a player the conditions for the last game of 8 played on one surface, are going to be the same or similar as for the first game of this “Magic Weekend”? This ground cut up really badly earlier this year and was almost to the point of being unsafe. I also want the same conditions as I’d normally expect to have, not some paddock after running a head of cows through it.

      What about playing 8 games on this surface and it rains? Ignore the people who won’t front because of the weather and focus on the ground. If my sides playing in game 7 or 8, the chances of injury because of the ground go up and the spectacle of 26 guys playing in a bog goes down. Oh, that’s right, it’s a “Magic Weekend” so there won’t be any rain???

      I want to go to watch 3 days of footy because it’s a “Magic Weekend”. What will I have to pay for flights, accommodation and tickets, with everyone in Brisbane bumping their prices?

      Lots of stars have to align for this concept to work and for what? It’s not going to spread the game and how much more half yearly profit does the NRL want to make?

      I’d rather see a “Taking the Game Back to the Bush” round where every game is played out in the regions. You won’t get huge crowds but every game would be packed. You’d be spreading the word and giving back to a significant nursery of NRL footballers.

      • Roar Guru

        June 19th 2018 @ 9:56am
        Nat said | June 19th 2018 @ 9:56am | ! Report

        As a launch Brisbane is the safest bet. I hear what you’re saying about the crowds and no doubt that after yr 2-3 they will dwindle and surely the NRL are open to taking this event around the country to maintain the spectacle. No single ground in the world can maintain pristine standard after just a few games but as far as the rain goes, Brisbane has a defined wet season but otherwise ave 300 days of sunshine. So it has to be after that with time to prepare the ground (and no concerts as was the case, along with rain this year) but weather is not something they can control but they should account for.

        • June 19th 2018 @ 12:29pm
          Paul said | June 19th 2018 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

          Nat, the ground was in terrible condition earlier this year and that was with only one first grade game on it. I seem to recall a couple of tries being gifted because players completely lost their footing.

          The Brisbane rainfall has two distinct periods – October to March with an average of 800mm and April till September with an average of 400mm. The maths says there’s a 33% chance of rain, even in the driest time of the year.

          There are only 2 contingencies of it does rain (I’m talking about enough to seriously affect the surface); cancel the bulk of the games and play later in the year when sides should have a bye or play the games across a number of grounds. Either option is a financial disaster and a seriously unprofessional look.

          Maybe this is a non-issue, after all the NRL has a ground double booking for that weekend with Super Rugby.

          • Roar Guru

            June 19th 2018 @ 3:29pm
            Nat said | June 19th 2018 @ 3:29pm | ! Report

            Those weather stats are a little deceiving. Late Oct – Dec is more afternoon thunder storms that roll over and out in an hour. They’re intense with hail and flash flooding but gone just as quick. Late Jan to early April is the rain period. 400mm sounds like a lot but we can get 200mm+ in a few hours. This year was a bit of an anomaly though as we had quite a bit of steady rain. One of the wettest for a long while and no guarantees it won’t happen again. Along with that, they scheduled a concert there 2 weeks before that game. The issue with Suncorp in Winter is the change of sun position which means that the Caxton St end gets very little sun so with the wet and the show had the ground in the state we witnessed. If it’s prepared right it should be ok but I 100% acknowledge that 8 games on one field is a tough ask.

    • June 19th 2018 @ 9:06am
      Tyrone said | June 19th 2018 @ 9:06am | ! Report

      I just don’t see the need for a Magic Weekend in Australia. I’m not really sure what it adds.

      • June 19th 2018 @ 12:29pm
        Cathar Treize said | June 19th 2018 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

        Ditto. In the UK its used to promote the game in non RL areas. In Brisbane you’re preaching to the converted.

    • June 19th 2018 @ 10:16am
      Birdy said | June 19th 2018 @ 10:16am | ! Report

      I’m going to the magic weekend, I would love to go to the Denver game how do I watch it on tv?
      Why must we always knock ideas that may grow our game?
      If it fails try something else.

      • June 19th 2018 @ 12:24pm
        Jaime O'Donnell said | June 19th 2018 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

        Agree Birdy… need to do something, and if it doesn’t work… try something else.

        Denver test is on Fox 502 at 5:30am Sunday

        Can’t wait, I hope they put on a good show

        • June 19th 2018 @ 2:00pm
          Birdy said | June 19th 2018 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

          Thanks Jamie,
          Looks like I will have to get Foxtel on again

      • June 19th 2018 @ 12:31pm
        Cathar Treize said | June 19th 2018 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

        Apparently on Foxsports RL channel. In England it will be on at 9.30pm BBC 2 live which is a coup for the game & a nice tie on TV to pick up non regular RL watchers.

    • June 19th 2018 @ 10:29am
      BrainsTrust said | June 19th 2018 @ 10:29am | ! Report

      Whats magical is that the Queensland government is willing to pay all this money for sporting events like this but charging ultra expensive stadium deals with the exception of AFL teams. Its basically an exhibition of the double think of the Queensland government, here are all the teams from elsewhere because they have cheaper stadium deals.

      • Roar Rookie

        June 19th 2018 @ 11:45am
        Don said | June 19th 2018 @ 11:45am | ! Report

        The Titans just renegotiated their stadium deal with Stadiums QLD at a much lower price.
        The Gabba is very close in price per person up to 25k people to rent as Suncorp.
        The AFL kicked in cash up front to redevelop Carrara Stadium in exchange for lower rent.

        And why wouldn’t the best over 50k capacity rectangular stadium in the land come at a premium price to rent?

        The Broncos are a private company.
        The QLD has an obligation to realise the best return possible from these assets to ensure residents aren’t having to contribute to upkeep and improvements.

        The Reds need to be winning more and get back to those 2011-13 audiences. Likewise the Roar.

        • June 19th 2018 @ 12:13pm
          Toth said | June 19th 2018 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

          Broncos are actually a public company. Only public sporting team in Aus.

          • Roar Rookie

            June 19th 2018 @ 1:43pm
            Don said | June 19th 2018 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

            Yep. Thanks.
            Meant to say that. My mistake.
            It’s why I have such issue with them complaining about facility rents.

            They are a public company with News Corp as a major shareholder yet the Newman Government gifted them half of the Ithaca TAFE campus across the road at $1 a year peppercorn rent for 99 years. All because they threatened to relocate their club to Logan.
            They were never going to leave Brisbane…

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