The first edition of the NRL’s Magic Round has concluded, and already there are suggestions as to where the concept should be held in future years.
Over 130,000 fans packed Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium across four days for eight matches, which saw the Wests Tigers and Melbourne Storm record large victories, while the Brisbane Broncos recorded a win as the “away” side against the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.
But the round was soured by serious injuries to key players, including the Broncos’ Jack Bird, who will miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury, and the Roosters’ Latrell Mitchell, who suffered a groin injury in his side’s win over the Canberra Raiders.
And while it is certain that Suncorp will again host the Magic Round next year, and perhaps for many more years to come after that, it is inevitable that other venues will have their turn in playing host to the NRL’s festival of league.
Potential venues that could host the NRL’s Magic Round in the future may include:
North Queensland Stadium
To open in 2020
Set to hold 25,000
While the idea of a new stadium to replace the ageing Willows Sports Complex was raised early this decade, it wasn’t until after the North Queensland Cowboys’ historic premiership win in 2015 that the idea started to really gain any momentum.
Construction of the new stadium began in August 2017 and is expected to be ready for the start of the 2020 season, which will bring the Cowboys much closer to home (Willows Sports Complex is 15km away from the CBD) and possibly allow them to play daytime matches at home on a regular basis.
Hosting Magic Round in Townsville would also attract over tens of thousands of league fans to the tropics, and allow them to make the most of what the north Queensland region has to offer.
Sydney Football Stadium
To open in 2022
Set to hold 45,000
The ongoing demolition of Allianz Stadium has forced the Sydney Roosters to temporarily shift just a few metres south to the SCG while a brand new stadium is being built in its place.
But this move has not affected the Chooks’ premiership defence in any way; they have won their last eight matches in a row (going into this weekend’s clash against the Brisbane Broncos) to be sitting on top of the ladder after Round 9.
Once demolition of the old SFS is complete, a new state-of-the-art stadium will be built in its place with an expected capacity of 45,000, with completion scheduled for 2022. The Roosters, NSW Waratahs (Super Rugby) and Sydney FC (A-League) are expected to be its main tenants.
Having Magic Round played at the new SFS would also generate millions of dollars in revenue and give every club the opportunity to check out the new ground in all its glory.
To avoid their crowds being dwarfed, the Waratahs and the state’s two AFL clubs, the Sydney Swans and Greater Western Sydney Giants, will all have to play away that weekend, though the Giants have the option of playing a match in Canberra instead.
Bankwest Stadium, Parramatta
Overall seating capacity: 30,000
Most recent rugby league match: Eels 32-18 Dragons, 5 May 2019. Attendance: 25,872.
Scheduled rugby league matches in the future: All remaining Eels home games as well as a few Wests Tigers home games and one Bulldogs home game.
The recently completed Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta has been well received by the fans, if the two Parramatta Eels’ matches recently played at the ground are anything to go by.
Just over 29,000 fans packed the ground to see the Eels, back at home for the first time since 2016, demolish the Wests Tigers by 51-6 on Easter Monday, while 25,872 fans saw them come from behind to beat the Dragons by 32-18 a fortnight later.
If the NRL’s Magic Round does come to the city of Parramatta, over 100,000 people, mostly Sydneysiders, would be expected to pack the area for what would promise to be a massive weekend of action, not just on the field, but also off it.
And as was the case at Suncorp Stadium last weekend, when the Brisbane Broncos played an ‘away’ game against the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, the Parramatta Eels would play an ‘away’ game against the Wests Tigers, who will use Bankwest Stadium on an intermittent basis this year and beyond.
To compliment the on-field action, a related festival of entertainment could also be held at the nearby Parramatta Park, and pass-outs would be permitted allowing league fans to enjoy the best of what’s offered both on and off the field.
Marvel Stadium, Melbourne
Overall seating capacity: 56,347
Most recent rugby league match: Queensland 18-10 New South Wales, May 23, 2012. Attendance: 56,021
Most recent NRL match: Storm 40-6 Warriors, April 25, 2010. Attendance: 23,906
Scheduled rugby league matches in the future: None
Even after the opening of AAMI Park in 2010, which provided the city of Melbourne with a stadium specifically designed for rectangular sports such as rugby league, rugby union and soccer, Marvel Stadium continues to be used intermittently by these sports, but not by rugby league since mid-2012.
Due to the success of the Melbourne Storm in their infancy, they decided to take their home games to the Docklands venue in 2001, but that meant having to share the ground with several AFL clubs, including Essendon, who were the reigning AFL premiers at the time.
Ultimately, the move proved to be a failure both commercially and financially, and as a result the Storm moved back to the since-demolished Olympic Park Stadium from 2002 before shifting to AAMI Park in 2010.
In the intervention, rugby league continued to be played intermittently at Docklands, with the Storm playing seven matches for six wins (one finals win in 2007, a regular season win in 2008, two finals wins in 2009 and two out of three matches in 2010), and Queensland winning three State of Origin matches (one each in 2006, 2009 and 2012).
The A-League’s Melbourne Victory continues to use the Docklands venue for marquee matches such as the Melbourne Derby against Melbourne City, and those against huge rivals such as Adelaide United and Sydney FC.
When the ground was renamed Marvel Stadium last September (it has previously been known as Colonial Stadium, Telstra Dome and Etihad Stadium), several concepts were installed including a Marvel retail store and statues of certain movie characters outside the ground.
The use of the ground by the NRL would require the AFL not to schedule any matches at the ground, but it is logistically possible by having tenant clubs such as North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs play matches in Hobart and Ballarat, respectively.
Holding Magic Round at Marvel Stadium would also provide a lot of family entertainment as young fans would be able to shop at the Marvel retail store and maybe watch a movie or two before being treated to some thrilling rugby league in a cinematic environment.
Overall seating capacity: 55,317
Most recent rugby league match: Storm 9-8 Roosters, 29 June 2018. Attendance: 17,728.
Scheduled rugby league matches in the future: Roosters versus Storm, 28 June 2019, State of Origin match 2020.
It was announced early last year that the Adelaide Oval would host a State of Origin match in 2020, but just which game it is will remain to be seen.
The Origin match could be seen as a way of testing the waters for the NRL to potentially host Magic Round at the venue, which was significantly redeveloped this century to cater for the move to the ground by the two state-based AFL clubs, the Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide.
Once, Adelaide had its own team in the top level of rugby league in Australia, but the Adelaide Rams only lasted two seasons (1997 and 1998) in which it won just 13 out of 42 matches before winding up at the end of the 1998 season.
The Rams’ time in the NRL came during a period in which the state’s other professional sporting clubs – namely the Adelaide Crows (AFL), Adelaide 36ers (basketball) and Adelaide Thunderbirds (netball) – enjoyed premiership success in either or both of 1997 and 1998.
Top level rugby league would not return to the City of Churches until 2006, when the Melbourne Storm defeated the Penrith Panthers by 40-6 in front of a crowd of only 7,017 people.
In 2010 and 2011, the Bulldogs would take a home game against the Storm to the Adelaide Oval, marking the first time since 1998 that the venue had seen professional rugby league.
This year, for the third consecutive season, the Roosters will host the Storm at the venue, in Round 15.
For the NRL to host Magic Round in Adelaide, both the Crows and Power would have to play away during the weekend; alternatively, one of them would play away while the other has a bye.
All matches would have to be played half an hour earlier, so as to cater for broadcast into the eastern states. But with the early Friday match starting at 5:30pm local time, and with the Oval being so close to the city, a modest crowd for that match would not be an impossibility.
Optus Stadium, Perth
Overall seating capacity: 65,000
Most recent rugby league match: Storm 36-18 Bulldogs, 10 March 2018. Attendance: 38,842.
Scheduled rugby league matches in the future: State of Origin Game 2 2019.
Ahead of the opening of the new Perth Stadium last year, the NRL beat the AFL to the punch in the battle of the two major football codes in Australia, scheduling a double header at the new ground with the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs hosting the Warriors and Storm, respectively.
That, however, wasn’t the first professional football match of any kind to be played at the ground, as Fremantle’s AFL Women’s team played a premiership match against Collingwood before over 40,000 fans – a then-record for a professional women’s sporting event in Australia (eclipsed by the AFL Women’s grand final held in March).
Reception for the stadium, which replaced Subiaco Oval as the premier sporting event in the worlds most isolated city, has been well met, especially by the West Coast Eagles which took advantage of its MCG-like dimensions en route to taking out last year’s AFL premiership.
As is the case for Adelaide Oval, for the NRL to host Magic Round at Optus Stadium, both the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle would have to play away from home for the weekend, or one of them would have to play away while the other has the bye.
Another challenge for the NRL would be the scheduling of matches, given Western Australia is two hours behind the east coast during non-daylight saving time.
This means that it would be 4:00pm in Perth when the first of two Friday matches kicks off, and this would therefore be a very inconvenient time for those yet to knock off for the week.
To resolve this, the first match would kick off at 5:55pm local time, with the Nine Network and Fox League to show the match live into the eastern seaboard; this would then be followed by a second match starting at 7:50pm to be shown exclusively on Fox League (and it would be just after midnight on the eastern seaboard when that match concludes).
Saturday and Sunday would see triple headers, with the Thursday night match, which would be the first match in a typical round, shifting to be the final match of the round. Therefore, a Magic Round in Perth would look like this (all times local):
Match 1 – Friday, 5:55pm (Nine/Fox)
Match 2 – Friday, 7:50pm (Fox)
Match 3 – Saturday, 1:00pm (Fox)
Match 4 – Saturday, 3:30pm (Fox)
Match 5 – Saturday, 5:35pm (Nine/Fox)
Match 6 – Sunday, 12:00pm (Fox)
Match 7 – Sunday, 2:05pm (Nine/Fox)
Match 8 – Sunday, 4:10pm (Fox)
Because the Nine Network must televise three matches per round, and with there being no Thursday night match, they would televise the Saturday night match instead.
Eden Park, Auckland
Overall seating capacity: 65,000
Most recent rugby league match: Warriors 54-12 Canberra, 10 May 2014. Attendance: 18,165
Scheduled rugby league matches in the future: None
Another good option for the NRL would be to take a whole round of matches outside the mainland of Australia and host them at Eden Park in Auckland, the largest sporting stadium in New Zealand by capacity.
It was also the venue where the Auckland Nines were once held, before it was scrapped at the end of 2017, with the NRL citing a jam-packed rugby league schedule caused by the Rugby League World Cup being held at the end of that year.
In a country where rugby union is the more dominant sport, promoting rugby league would provide a massive boost for the sport and potentially attract more fans to the 13-a-side game.
But as is the case for Perth Stadium, scheduling would be a massive issue (New Zealand is two hours ahead of the eastern seaboard), especially when matches have to be televised back to the eastern seaboard by Channel Nine.
Matches cannot start any later than 8:30pm (local time), so the first match on a Friday would have to start at 6:00pm local time, followed by one at 7:55pm, with the latter to be covered by the Nine Network through its sister channel 9Gem so as to avoid a clash with the evening news.
The Thursday night match would move to the Sunday schedule, creating triple-headers on Saturday and Sunday. Thus, a Magic Round at Eden Park would look like this (all local times):
Match 1 – Friday, 6:00pm (Fox)
Match 2 – Friday, 7:55pm (9Gem/Fox)
Match 3 – Saturday, 3:00pm (Fox)
Match 4 – Saturday, 5:30pm (Fox)
Match 5 – Saturday, 7:35pm (9Gem/Fox)
Match 6 – Sunday, 2:00pm (Fox)
Match 7 – Sunday, 4:05pm (Fox)
Match 8 – Sunday, 6:10pm (Nine/Fox)
Because the Nine Network must televise three matches per round, and with there being no Thursday night match, they would televise the Saturday night match via 9Gem instead.
Those are just some of the venues that could potentially host the NRL’s Magic Round in the near future. What other venues do you think could host the concept?