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Page last updated at 15:06 GMT, Monday, 14 February 2011

Did Magic Weekend live up to its name?

James Graham
Saints' clash against Wigan was one of the highlights of the weekend

By Ged Scott
BBC Sport at the Millennium Stadium

Just like any Valentine's Day, 14 February is the day when everyone's thoughts turn to love.

And, just like any Magic Weekend, thoughts will once again turn to the age-old, heartfelt issue of just how much sport lovers still love the great game of rugby league.

Perhaps not unfairly, rugby league has always retained a capacity for feeling unloved about itself, despite the attentions of an imaginative ruling body who try a lot harder than most to indulge the feelings of their fans.

Millennium Magic 2011 was Super League's fifth attempt to persuade the paying punters that it's a good idea to footle off somewhere different for two days, play seven back-to-back matches and make a real weekend of it.

As to whether it is a success or not, the jar still remains either half full or half empty, depending on which angle you approach it from.

As far as the Millennium Stadium is concerned, it was once again less than half full.

They get almost 75,000 in here on days when Land of My Fathers, Bread of Heaven, Men of Harlech and other male voice choir favourites are being belted out to record the fact that the Welsh rugby union team are playing.

Some fans see Magic Weekend as an annual jolly and some as a waste of petrol

Ged Scott, BBC Sport

But, if the Rugby Football League had any realistic hopes of tapping into that most electric of sporting atmospheres, they were abandoned once they chose to stage this year's Magic Weekend on the second Saturday of the Six Nations, when Wales were booked 300 miles away in Edinburgh for a 1700 GMT kick-off.

Even on the second day, when victorious Crusaders were first on the menu, the locals still failed to show.

Only 29,323 were there on day two to complete an overall attendance of 60,214 - and it once again left the feeling that Magic Weekend could be better received at 30,000-capacity arenas like St Andrews in Birmingham or Derby's Pride Park.

Admittedly, this year's Millennium Stadium attendance figure was up 15 per cent on last year's 52,043 in Edinburgh.

Then again, Cardiff in mid-February bizarrely turned out to be a lot warmer than Murrayfield in May. And last year's programme did not enjoy the ticket-selling advantage of being the stage for three of rugby league's biggest local rivalries - Wigan-Saints, Bradford-Leeds and the Hull derby.

When Magic Weekend was first staged at the Millennium Stadium in 2007, it attracted 58,831.

It peaked the following year when more than 63,000 turned out, then pulled in 59,749 for the first year in Edinburgh in 2009.

And it remains increasingly clear that this is a weekend split down the middle in personal tastes, which some fans see as an annual jolly and some as a waste of petrol, while failing in its mission to bring in new spectators.

Maybe it all depends on one's mood.

New Leeds coach Brian McDermott left nobody in any doubt.

Those who have not come down have missed out on a fabulous weekend

Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McDermott

"I look round and I see too many empty seats," he said. "And I think those who stayed away this weekend have missed something."

Then again love really was in the air for McDermott, or relief at least, after seeing his side come back from 28-10 down with 20 minutes left to beat neighbours Bradford.

"I look at the Wigan-Saints game on Saturday and our game, and those who have not come down have missed out on a fabulous weekend," he added.

"I just wish they'd do something about the grass. They need to get some real grass on there, instead of icicles."

If the state of the Millennium Stadium surface is an issue, then they also have a few off-field matters to attend to.

Take poor Warrington coach Tony Smith's experience as he sat in front of the waiting press corps preparing to pick the bones out of his side's mildly surprising 28-18 opening match defeat on Saturday lunchtime.

Finding himself not only having to compete with a noisy nearby TV screen belting out commentary on the next match, Smith was also sat next door to the gentlemen's lavatory.

His situation did not improve when a succession of desperate Harlequins substitutes came trampling in after a vigorous pre-match warm-up, their studs clattering equally noisily on the hard floor.

"This is surreal," said the likable Aussie, with a forced smile. "I'm going to wake up from this nightmare soon."

If Smith had temporarily fallen out of love with rugby league, it was almost divorce for Salford hooker Wayne Godwin.

He is now due to find out on Tuesday what fate awaits him for his right hook at Crusaders full-back Clinton Schifcofske when he visits the RFL disciplinary panel at Red Hall.

It was the weekend's only red card, borne from frustration as the sorry Reds faced up to the heaviest mauling of the weekend against one of the least fancied teams.

Godwin's indiscretion earned the wrath of his coach Shaun McRae, who clearly is not very fond of him any more.

"No I haven't spoken to him yet," said McRae, immediately after the match. "I'm probably not in the best of moods right now."

And there we have it. Sport in a nutshell. The ultimate mood maker.

If your team win, you love it. If you lose, you hate it. And if you draw, like champions Wigan contrived to do when they let slip a 16-point lead against Saints on Saturday, then as the old cliché goes, that too feels like a defeat.



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see also
Hull FC 22-34 Hull KR
13 Feb 11 |  My Club
Bradford 28-32 Leeds
13 Feb 11 |  My Club
Crusaders 42-12 Salford
13 Feb 11 |  My Club
St Helens 16-16 Wigan
12 Feb 11 |  My Club
Castleford 40-20 Wakefield
12 Feb 11 |  My Club
Catalans 4-11 Harlequins
12 Feb 11 |  My Club
Huddersfield 28-18 Warrington
12 Feb 11 |  My Club
Super League form guide 2011
09 Feb 11 |  My Club
Millennium Magic to start season
13 Aug 10 |  Rugby League


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