21 May 2020

Hemmings Way: Magic Memories

On any other late Spring Bank Holiday weekend we would all be heading in our droves to the annual Magic Weekend – a unique sporting event…12 teams, six matches over two days, at the one venue…and all live on TV.

Supporters from all 12 Super League clubs would be mingling, showing their colours, beer in hand enjoying the banter with their rivals. A spectacular cacophony that other sports could only dream about.

Of course not so in 2020 as the Covid-19 crisis rumbles on. So I thought I’d delve into the record books this week and remember some of the best moments of the Magic Weekend from years gone by.

Incredibly the event only started in 2007. Two years before the Challenge Cup Final had switched its then traditional date from May to August – and the game was left bereft of its annual Spring Festival. Credit where credit is due in 2006 the then CEO of the game, Nigel Wood, had the brainwave of assembling all the teams together at one venue to play a full round of Super League. The Magic Weekend was born.

I’ve been tasked with nominating my Top Five Magic Moments – and looking back there have been so many. The weekend has taken in visits to Cardiff, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool over the years – I believe those in Newcastle and Manchester have provided some of the best.

Having said that my first memory takes me back to the very first weekend of 2007 at Cardiff’s National Stadium. The weekend had been a rip-roaring success – until the last match between Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls. Even that game had gone pretty well until the final minute.

Then Steve Ganson – it has to be said on the intervention in his ear by Video Referee Ashley Klein – awards Leeds a penalty. The argument rages to this day – the penalty should never have been blown. Up steps Kevin Sinfield to take a shot at goal that, if successful, would have rescued a point for Leeds in a 38-all draw.

The kick hit the Bradford woodwork and bounced back perfectly into the arms of the on-rushing Jordan Tansey who dived over under the posts. No video referee was called on - just for clarification. The try was awarded despite the fact as the conversion was being lined up the replays showed that Tansey was in fact a good 10 meters in front of the ball when Sinfield’s original penalty kick was taken. The magic turned tragic in those last few seconds - Bradford were robbed… and poor old Steve Ganson has never lived it down and I doubt if Bulls coach that day Steve McNamara has ever forgiven him!!

Fast forward to 2012 and my next abiding memory. We were in Manchester by then and it was the Hull-Hull KR derby. The Black and Whites had built up a commanding 30-16 lead with just 12 minutes to go. Victory assured – or so it seemed.

Q the Rovers fightback… but Hull were still ahead 30-28 in the closing minute when Rovers’ winger David Hodgson received the ball 60 meters out. He set off, at a hell of a pace, and brushed two defenders aside to score a remarkable match winning try in the corner! I will never forget coach Craig Sandercock’s face at that moment. He later described it as one the best memories of his coaching career.

For the third memory we are back at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester 12 months later. Warrington were playing St Helens and were leading against their old nemesis – they were winning easily in fact.  Deep in the second half Adrian Morley picked up the ball in the middle of the park and set off on a run that would see him crash over underneath the sticks. I doubt if Adrian has ever scored a more memorable try than that in his illustrious career!

He was dived upon, it seemed, by every other member of the Warrington side – they came from everywhere and Morley was buried underneath them. He lived though to tell the tale of a great try in that 48-22 victory… and remember in those days, for Warrington wins against St Helens were pretty rare.

There have been so many great moments from the Magic Weekend when I think about it. For those who like a bit of biff in the game – remember the Jamie Peacock-John Bateman set too in the Leeds v Wigan clash of 2014?  The Superstar and the Young Pretender both ended up in the sin bin… and how about 2012  between Wigan and St Helens as referee Ben Thaler showed red cards to three players? Shaun Macgennis of Saints, Gareth Hock and Chris Tuson of Wigan all took an early bath following a 26-man brawl battle royal between the teams!

And then in 2017 there was Justin Holbrook watching his first game as the St Helens coach as they beat Hull 45-0… and this just a week after the Saints were bounced out of the Challenge Cup following a 50-point mauling by Castleford! Who says coaches don’t win matches?

But now to the final two of my Famous Five.

2015 in Newcastle: Huddersfield against the Catalans Dragons. The French were leading right up to the final minute – no, the final kick of the game. Jermaine McGillvray had scored a try in the far corner and Danny Brough needed to kick the conversion to rescue a point. The Giants’ skipper obliged with one of the best conversions St James' Park has ever seen and it finished all square at 22-all.

The following year Catalans were involved again in a dramatic finish when a sensational long-range Jacob Miller drop goal sent the Dragons back across the Channel on the wrong end of a 24-25 defeat to Wakefield. Talk about agony! It was a magic moment for Trinity though and Miller in particular.

If I remember rightly around about that time Catalans couldn’t have been enjoying their Magic experiences much because the following year – 2017 – after a defeat to Huddersfield also in Newcastle coach Laurent Frayssinous (one of the nicest men you could wish to meet incidentally) was shown the door never to coach in Super League again.

So there we are bitter sweet memories of the Magic Weekend since 2007 – there could have been more in 2020 but it’s not too be…here’s hoping we’re back enjoying all the magic again next year.

Stay Safe everyone.