Super League: Newcastle prepares for another Magic Weekend
- St. James' Park, Newcastle
- 21-22 May
- All games live on BBC local radio. Leeds v Wigan (19:00 BST, 21 May) live on BBC 5 live sports extra
For a city synonymous with football, rugby league did a fine job of getting under the skin of the north east public with the 2015 Magic Weekend in Newcastle.
A record attendance of more than 67,000 and perhaps most importantly, buy-in from the players made the event the biggest and arguably best in its 10-year history.
Already 65,000 tickets have been sold as this year's event promises to be just as successful and hopes are high for further economic benefits off the field, and competitive action on it.
What is Magic Weekend?
For starters, it is not a tournament, not a cup final, and there is no trophy.
In fact, rugby league - not top of the list of popular British sports - has managed to create a buzz about a regular season round of fixtures by bundling them together and taking them on the road to locations across the United Kingdom.
The secret has been to generate a "carnival atmosphere", as Warrington prop Chris Hill puts it.
With a neutral venue, thousands of fans from the 12 clubs mixing together, it evokes the spirit of the Challenge Cup final at Wembley - away from the game's heartland and as much an event as a sporting fixture.
"Playing at a great stadium like this, on what is a fantastic occasion does get the hairs on the neck standing up," Leeds Rhinos captain Danny McGuire told BBC Sport.
"It's like a semi-final-type environment and hopefully that can bring out the best in us."
St James' Park has followed the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Edinburgh's Murrayfield Stadium and Etihad Stadium in Manchester as host venue of the concept, offering fans and players alike an experience of a major sporting event.
With towering stands close to the pitch and a Premier League-standard playing surface, the overall reception has been positive from Super League's elite - with last year's event generating a record 67,788 crowd across the weekend.
"It breaks the normality of the Super League up. To come here like this is great," Wigan and England skipper Sean O'Loughlin added.
"As a player you enjoy playing at these stadiums, but when I think of how well the spectators got behind it, that's what makes it.
"I looked around the stadium and there were people in fancy dress and all sorts - they bought into the concept of travelling up here."
Bidding for local affections
Widnes have probably staked the biggest claim for local support, particularly on Tyneside, having produced a Newcastle United-themed kit in support of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation for a successive second year.
Last year's version coincided with the fans being allocated the famous Gallowgate - the traditional home end of the Magpies supporters - and a thumping victory against a Salford side who again provide the opposition on Saturday.
"We want to do the same this year, the fans have sold a lot of tickets again so hopefully we can get success and get the victory again," scrum-half Joe Mellor said.
"I remember walking out and seeing the size of the stadium and hearing the fans, so I'm looking forward to it."
While Newcastle football supporters, with their black and white shirts and scarves, can sympathise with Widnes, and indeed Sunday's co-headliners Hull FC; those of a Sunderland and red and white persuasion might choose to follow Hull Kingston Rovers in the East Yorkshire derby.
"It's massive," Rovers hooker Shaun Lunt said. "I was a massive St Helens supporter when I was a kid, I used to watch Wigan-Saints derbies and they were amazing.
"With derbies, the form goes out of the window. It's an emotional game but we've got to play with our heads."
Hull FC captain Gareth Ellis added: "The rivalry is fierce, and I can see why the RFL and Super League would want this derby at such a prestigious event for the league.
"We know who our opponents are, how much it means to the fans, and that the form book goes out of the window.
"It has a bit of a cup final feel about it, in a stadium that lends itself to rugby league."
Newcastle's "£5m boost"
Newcastle as a city, not to mention the wider north east, has seen tangible benefit from staging the Magic Weekend.
It was estimated that £4.2m was brought into the region in 2015, beating figures registered when St James' Park hosted football during 2012 Olympics.
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes has indicated they are already seeking to host Magic Weekend for a third year.
"It's hugely good for the economy," said Sean Bullick, chief executive of business development company NE1.
"We'll see footfall up by 40%, businesses recording 50% increase in trade and hotels reporting 40% in stays, so it's fantastic all-round."
14:30 - Salford Red Devils v Widnes Vikings
16:45 - Warrington Wolves v Castleford Tigers
19:00 - Leeds Rhinos v Wigan Warriors
13:00 - Wakefield Wildcats v Catalans Dragons
15:15 - St Helens v Huddersfield Giants
17:30 - Hull FC v Hull Kingston Rovers