Magic, a Nines circuit and repaying Taumalolo: New events growing the game

The man responsible for the introduction of Magic Weekend in the Super League more than a decade ago has predicted the concept will be a similar success for the NRL.

With more than 125,000 fans set to attend Suncorp Stadium this weekend, Magic Round is set to become a highlight of the NRL calendar for at least the term of the three-year deal with the Queensland Government to host it.

However, RLIF CEO and former RFL boss Nigel Wood believes the concept is likely to be around for much longer if the experience in England is a guide as Super League has been scheduling a full round of matches at the one venue since 2007.

Over the past 12 years, Magic Weekend has been played at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, Murrayfield in Edinburgh, Manchester's Ethiad Stadium and Newcastle's St James's Park.

The 2019 Super League Magic Weekend will be at Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC, while the Championship and League One clubs have introduced their own version, known as the Summer Bash, which will be played at Blackpool.

"The origins of Magic were to give a spike to the season and people love it," Wood said. "Of course supporters are tribal but if you like your rugby league you can have as much of it as you want in world class facilities.

"Magic is an opportunity to come to an event where you see all the teams on one ticket and you can stay all day, like one-day cricket.

"It represents most things that are good about rugby league, the collegiate collaboration, the respect for the total sport rather than just your own club, and it's a bloody good weekend."

Having all 16 NRL clubs playing at one venue is a massive logistical undertaking, with some teams staying at the same hotel as rivals and St George Illawarra and Parramatta players on the same flight just days after playing each last weekend.

However, Magic Round offers players who haven't played State of Origin, in a grand final or a Test like last season's Australia-Tonga Test in Auckland the chance to experience the atmosphere of playing before a big crowd at a neutral venue.

"Some clubs don't get to the finals as often as other clubs do, so if you had a 10-year career at Widnes, for example, you wouldn't have had that many appearances at Old Trafford or Wembley so getting to play on big occasions elevates the game," Wood said.

Wood is in Australia to attend a meeting of the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), which last year awarded the RLIF observer status in a move expected to assist with gaining government recognition in more countries, particularly Africa or the Middle East.

The RLIF will meet in Singapore in June and Wood is excited about the development of new events which are helping to grow the game around the globe.

World Cup Nines

The inaugural World Cup Nines will be played at Bankwest Stadium on October 18 and 19, and is intended to be held every four years - giving the RLIF a major global event each two years, with the World Cup scheduled for 2021 and 2025.

However, Wood suggested the modified version of the game could be played more regularly as a circuit.

He also said Nines could help the game break into new markets, in a similar way to Twenty20 cricket.  

"I think that Nines is a version of the sport that we haven't got properly organised. There are Nines tournaments going on all over the place and I think that we need to co-ordinate that and structure it," Wood said

"We can't keep putting more obligations on the same players and the current thinking is that the World Cup Nines would be every four years like the 13-aside World Cup, but there is also scope in emerging parts of the world to use Nines as a development vehicle.

"I am not saying we can suddenly create a circuit like the rugby union sevens but I do know that in North America, where rugby league is making progress with Toronto and the applications of clubs like Ottawa and New York, there are opportunities.

"The thing about our sport is that it is simpler and safer than other forms of rugby. The technicalities of other forms of rugby have barriers to participation whereas within an hour of meeting somebody you could have gone over the essentials of rugby league.

"What we have got is the best version of a running, handling, contact sport that there is, along with the safest and the simplest, and that puts us in a strong position when people are trying to learn the sport in new territories.

"Nines should be the version of the game that you use that for so you do want a world champion, but you also want something in 2020, 2021 and 2022 before you have the next World Cup Nines in 2023."

Oceania Cup

Wood believes the code owes Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita and other stars whose decision to turn their backs on Australia and New Zealand at the 2017 World Cup elevated the international game to new heights by ensuring the Pacific nations play regular and meaningful fixtures.

Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea will join Australia and New Zealand in a new two-tier Oceania Cup, which will be played on an annual basis.

The first round begins during the stand-alone representative weekend with the Kiwis to host Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium and Samoa playing PNG at Leichhardt Oval on June 22.

The Kangaroos play New Zealand at WIN Stadium on October 25 and Tonga at Eden Park on November 2.

"We have got the World Cup, and the 2021 World Cup will I think be the biggest and the best yet, but we need to fill the years in between and not just have the same nations playing each other," Wood said.

"The Oceania Cup is a really significant development and mirrors in some ways the European Championships so this is the first time we have had hemisphere-based competitions running concurrently."

2025 World Cup

While many think last year's England v New Zealand Denver Test was a disaster, it was a test of whether Moore Sports International could deliver on their proposal to stage the 2025 World Cup in North America and a new tender process for the tournament will begin later this year.

The RLIF believes the World Cup can't just alternate between Britain and Australia every four years and a South African bid was strongly considered for the 2017 tournament.

"We had an expression of interest from Moore Sports that was conditional on several performance elements that haven't been delivered so the RLIF board took that back from a preferred status to re-open it," Wood said.

"We have had people interested who have come forward as potential independent promoters who want to work with us and in some cases offer a multi-national solution rather than just playing it in one territory."