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Last Updated: Friday, 4 May 2007, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
Cardiff 'could rival Grand Final'
By Julian Shea

Millennium Stadium
Rugby League fans have enjoyed their previous trips to Cardiff
The Rugby Football League hopes this weekend's Millennium Magic event can become a permanent date in the calendar to rank alongside the Grand Final.

All 12 Super League teams play over the two days, chief operating officer Nigel Wood hoping for 25,000 fans per day.

"When we launched the Grand Final in 1998 we got just over 40,000 - after 10 years of doing it well, it's grown to a 75,000 capacity event," he said.

"Provided the stadium's available the deal is to do this for three years."

Cardiff was the hugely popular temporary home of the Challenge Cup final while Wembley was being rebuilt, and the RFL is keen to build upon that success.

"It was a collective idea from the game," he said.

"The sport has a very good relationship with Cardiff and supporters universally enjoyed the experience.

As a governing body we have an obligation to showcase the sport beyond the M62

Nigel Wood

"There was a full and vigorous debate, and some clubs had to be convinced, but we have a democracy at work and the majority of clubs supported the plan.

"We're mindful this is a new event so we expect people to have a look at it and not be immediately won over on year one.

"But we want to create a spring event and bringing games together seemed a good way to showcase the sport."

606: DEBATE

Travelling to Cardiff for a Cup final is one thing, but persuading fans to make the journey just for a regular league match which would otherwise be played closer to home is another.

But Wood says the decision to take the game out of its geographical and psychological heartland was a deliberate one - and he called on fans to give it their support.

"We have got to work on building the national profile of rugby league," he said.

Players at the Millennium Stadium
Fans will get to see all 12 Super League clubs over the weekend
"The game is spoilt by the fact so many of its clubs are so close.

"Every weekend the motorways are full of football and rugby union fans travelling up and down the country.

"There aren't too many football fans who would complain at going distances far greater than from the North West to Cardiff, they probably do it every other week.

"So I don't think we should be too hide-bound by what people think a trip between Wakefield and Huddersfield should be."

Taking the game on the road in such a big venue, particularly to a venue that holds 74,000 people, is extremely ambitious but Wood says it is not a gamble.

The embarrassing rows of empty seats at the Cricket World Cup have served as a warning to many sports event organisers, but Wood said they were being realistic in their expectations for this inaugural event.

"When we went to the Millennium Stadium we knew it was a disproportionately large venue for this event," he said.

Ali Lauitiiti of Leeds and Paul Deacon of Bradford
The schedule includes derbies such as Leeds v Bradford

"We've gone into this with our eyes open."

Having the event in Cardiff is partly significant as south Wales is one of the possible contenders to host a new club when Super League expands to 14 teams in 2009.

"Rugby league has a good following in south Wales," Wood added.

"There's 10 teams in their domestic competition and one professional club, Celtic Crusaders, who are expected to put in a strong application for the licensing system (to become a Super League franchise) in 2009.

"Between 15-20% of the tickets sold so far have been sent to Welsh postcodes, and as a governing body we have an obligation to showcase the sport beyond the M62."



SEE ALSO
Rugby league's Welsh crusade
02 May 07 |  Rugby League
Super League heading for Cardiff
12 Sep 06 |  My Club
Gone but not forgotten
28 Aug 05 |  Challenge Cup


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