Super League’s 10th Magic Weekend is set to break all records, organisers predicted at the launch in Newcastle.
St James’ Park has been chosen to host the latest annual round of league fixtures “on the road” after a best-yet aggregate crowd of 67,788 watched the 2015 event and projections are for an increase this weekend.
Mark Foster, Super League’s interim general manager, said: “The 10th Magic looks like it will be bigger and better than ever, which is testament to the people that set out the idea at the start.
“We’re slightly ahead of where we were this time last year. We’d like to get to 40,000 on the Saturday and beat the weekend total as well and the signs are good. We’re opening the top tier due to demand.”
The Magic Weekend, which began in Cardiff and has also been held in Edinburgh, was only taken to the North-East because Manchester’s Etihad Stadium was unavailable last year due to construction work but Newcastle City Council were delighted with the event after it provided an estimated £4.2million boost to the local economy and are already hoping to persuade officials to bring it back in 2017.
Council leader Nick Forbes said: “People often think Newcastle is just a football city but in recent years we’ve had a growing interest in rugby.
“I watched all six games last year and it was terrific. It was a brilliant atmosphere in St James’ Park and a real carnival atmosphere in the city centre as well.
“I’m really looking forward to this year.
“We enjoyed hosting it so much and it also gave us a significant economic boost - £4.2million on our reckoning - and it’s helping put our city on the map.
“Hopefully we can have a great weekend and have a legacy of increased tourism as a result. No decision has been made on the future but it would be great for us to go for the hat-trick.
“We’ll be working closely with the organisers to see what is possible.”
Foster says the governing body will consult with clubs, players and fans after this year’s event before making a decision on the future destination of the Magic Weekend but has no doubt about its place on the calendar.
“It shows how well the clubs, the players and the fans have taken to the format and the event,” he said. “It seems like it’s here to stay for a while.
“We’ll get this year delivered and sit down a couple of weeks later to assess how well this year has done and weigh up our options for next year.”
The action gets under way on Saturday with Salford taking on Widnes, followed by Warrington versus Castleford and a Grand Final re-match between Leeds and Wigan.
Saints are in action in the second game on the Sunday when they take on Huddersfield after Catalan v Wakefield and the Hull derby will bring down the curtain on the weekend.