Magic Weekend loaded with possibility for playoffs and relegation
Super League’s Magic Weekend returns to Newcastle with plenty of stories to digest. Arguably there has never been a more decisive Magic event in regards to on-field permutations, with several fixtures likely to have a decisive say in the race for top spot, the playoffs and who is relegated to the Championship. The 15th edition of one of the most anticipated weekends in the rugby league calendar could be one of the most important yet, on and off the field.
Learning disability rugby takes centre stage
The pandemic stunted the initial impact of the Learning Disability Super League, a competition aimed at providing opportunities for people to play rugby league who may otherwise not be able to. This weekend the competition will have a moment in the Magic spotlight to savour, with players from 16 clubs playing at St James’ Park.
Almost 300 players with a learning disability or autism will feature at half-time of the second match on each of the two days across the weekend. The games are played on a quarter-pitch with seven-a-side teams, and each team features two non-disabled players. It is a concept aimed at improving the lives of people who love rugby league and after its initial success pre-pandemic, it will be a standout moment of Magic 2022 to witness so many people having a chance to play on an iconic pitch when, just a few years ago, that dream was impossible.
Magic Weekend goes green
This is one of five major sporting events this summer to endorse the Sky Zero initiative, aimed at making sport as green as possible. Supporters will be asked to make small yet impactful changes to their matchday experience to help generate positive action to help combat the climate crisis. Super League has also introduced plenty of vegan options at St James’ Park alongside meat-based options, with other initiatives planned, including paper cups instead of plastic to try and reduce the event’s carbon footprint.
Some clubs have gone even further. Warrington, for example, will play in a limited-edition shirt made from recyclable material as part of their sustainable strategy. They have also pledged to produce all their shirts in a similar fashion if the concept is successful.
A relegation showdown
It is difficult to remember a Magic Weekend with more on-field ramifications than this one. That is perhaps best epitomised by the opening game of the weekend as Super League’s bottom two sides square off. Toulouse have been competitive in their debut season in Super League but defeat to second-bottom Wakefield on Saturday afternoon would be a fatal blow in their hopes of avoiding an instant return to the Championship, with Trinity opening up a six-point gap if they are victorious.
Should Toulouse prevail, the gap between the bottom two would be one win and with Toulouse holding a better points difference than their opponents, the relegation battle will be either all-but decided or well and truly alive by the time the opening day of Magic draws to a close.
Saturday’s middle game is the always-anticipated derby between St Helens and Wigan, with much more than local bragging rights on the line this time around. The Saints’ pursuit of an unprecedented fourth successive Super League title has been far from straightforward, underlined by defeat to Catalans last weekend.
Should they lose to Wigan – who beat them in the Challenge Cup semi-finals in May – the two would be level on points at the top heading into the final third of the regular season. Catalans, who face Warrington, and Huddersfield, who are just behind Wigan and take on Salford, will also feel their chances of finishing top become viable again if the Saints slip up.
Those four are all but assured of the playoffs, but the two remaining places in the top six are still up for grabs. That makes the outcome of a Hull derby – sixth-placed FC against eighth-placed KR – even more seismic than usual, while Castleford could take a significant step towards a playoff berth if they beat Leeds. In short: there will be drama everywhere you look in Newcastle this weekend.