Prepare yourself for the festival of football!
The NRL’s inaugural Magic Round kicks off tomorrow and it’s going to be a good bit of fun for those in the stands and watching elsewhere.
Although it’s pretty much a shameless ripoff of the English Super League’s Magic Weekend, it’s still an innovation for Australian codes.
So far, it’s reported around 125,000 people will be getting along to a game in Brisbane over the weekend – including a bunch of interstate visitors – and that’s great. Anything that creates excitement over rugby league can’t be a bad thing.
But as is the nature of the game, there are a lot of folks around who aren’t too enamoured with the idea or its execution.
We’ve got the usual steady stream of rugby league sooking and disproportionate aggression about the NRL’s decision to move to Suncorp for the weekend.
I’ll grant those arguments bagging the ‘Magic Round’ name – a transparently corporate and highly unoriginal moniker – but when you start to complain about teams having to play away from home, that’s where you start to lose me.
Let me help you debunk the common sooks we’ve been hearing about this weekend’s event.
Some Manly fans – and others getting outraged on behalf of Manly – are complaining they don’t get to play Brisbane at Brookvale.
They’ve obviously forgotten that since 2016, the Sea Eagles have chosen to play their home games against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium. They’ve won one from three in this time but in return have pocketed a decent amount of cash, which is the whole point.
One of the more common complaints is that fans of the Sydney teams are being robbed of the opportunity to get to a game.
This school of thought apparently ignores that this weekend their teams will be playing in front of crowds much larger than what they’d be getting at their home ground.
It’s also pretty safe to assume that these good people being robbed of a chance to attend a game are the same ones who won’t watch a game in Sydney because it’s too hard to switch trains, it’s too far to drive, the stadium isn’t perfect enough or there’s some other minimal issue stopping them from bothering to make the effort.
Then there’s the issue of the location.
When the Queensland capital was announced as the host city, doomsayers predicted the Suncorp Stadium surface wouldn’t be able to handle the booted traffic.
Well, the weather forecast is glorious and I’d still rather my team be playing on a slightly choppy Suncorp surface compared to chancing their limbs on the turf at the SCG, Kogarah or Brookvale.
If this event was being held in Sydney, there’d still be bugger-all people turning up.
Last year’s Round 3 double-header at Homebush attracted just 25,106 spectators, a dismal turn-out for two games featuring Cronulla, Manly, Souths and Parramatta.
Why not Perth? Why not Adelaide? Why not Melbourne?
Well to start with, the Queensland government and Brisbane City Council ponied up the cash for a three-year run. Brisbane City Council thinks they’ll trouser up to $60 million for their reported $5 million outlay.
As for Perth, they’re hosting the second State of Origin game in June, and the Adelaide Oval will have an Origin game played there in 2020. There’s plenty of rugby league to go around.
So kick-off in Brisbane is the smart move to establish the weekend as a feature of the NRL calendar, with decent crowds, knowledgeable fans, and all the off-field entertainment and festivities one can manage.
Once other cities see what can be done with it and how it will attract interstate visitors, they’ll no doubt be keen to have a crack at getting Magic Round in their backyard.
Finally, we have the complaints that some folks just don’t get it. They don’t see the point of playing every game in one location, and that’s OK.
Because you know what? You don’t need to get anything.
It’s the NRL trying something different to create interest and buzz around their game. It’ll likely be a raging success which will set the scene for more into the future.
Aside from all that noise, there are some intriguing on-field stories to play out.
Can the dinged-up Raiders keep their league-best defence on track against the rampant Roosters?
Can Brisbane sneak an away win at home and keep their season on life support?
Will local fans realise Kodi Nikorima is playing for the Warriors?
Will the Eels beat Melbourne and vault over them into the top four?
Wests Tigers and Penrith face off again but, funnily enough, there’s been almost zero articles about Ivan Cleary, a bus or Phil Gould this time around.
If things go Newcastle’s way, the Knights could finish the weekend inside the top eight – a seemingly unfathomable outcome after their horrible start to the year. Their first step towards achieving that is to beat Canterbury.
Believe it or not, right now, every team is a live option to play finals. The gap between eighth and 16th is two wins and ten converted tries.
With 17 weeks left in the season, that’s nothing.