Super League's Magic Weekend

Super League’s Magic Weekend is celebrating its 10th birthday this year with Newcastle’s St. James’ Park hosting the event for the second successive season. The RFL’s idea to take a full round of Super League fixtures on the road wasn’t hugely supported when it was first coined but after a record-breaking number of fans turned up last season, the event is here to stay.

Magic has thrown up some magic (controversial!) moments, from Jordan Tansey’s try on the hooter on the inaugural weekend in Cardiff to Chris Green’s offside tryat the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. However, despite the weekend becoming very enjoyable for fans of Super League, there are always lingering questions about the set-up of the weekend and we will look at a few of those issues in this piece.

As the table shows, Wigan have been the most successful side at Magic Weekend, accruing the most points over their nine games. They sit top of the mythical table with 13 points, closely followed by Warrington, Leeds and Hull KR on 12 who have also enjoyed plenty of success in their fixtures. Bradford have been the least successful side having only managed to collect two points from a possible 16.

On the face of it, this looks poor for Bradford but it does pose a question – are the fixtures fair? The fixtures have always been selected by the RFL with some calls for a random draw or to base the fixtures based on the previous season’s final league placings to make it fairer.

The above table highlights how impressive Wigan have done to pick up as many points as they have at Magic. They have faced the toughest opponents on average based on final league placings of the same season with the average position of their opponents standing at 2.78. Bradford on the other hand have had the second toughest schedule with the average position of their opponents being 3.88. They weren’t as well equipped to pick up points as Wigan were but will feel this is as a result of how difficult their fixtures have been, especially when compared to some other teams.
Castleford have had, on paper, the easiest fixtures with their opponents averaging a final league placing of 11.25. Whilst it’s inevitable that some teams have to play the lowest ranked teams, it does highlight some unfairness in how the fixtures are currently selected with such a large disparity between Wigan and Castleford’s figures.

It could be argued that the closer the teams are in the table the closer matched they are. This, in theory, should result in closer games between those sides. For example, if two games took place between 1st and 12th and 6th and 7th, you’d expect the scoreline to be closer in the latter game more often. We’ve put this theory to the test by analysing the average difference in final league positions of Magic fixtures and seeing how they compare to average winning margins.

As can be seen, 2010 produced the highest average winning margin thanks to several one-sided games. This wasn’t helped by the fact that weekend also had the joint highest average difference between final league positions per game with almost six positions difference per game. This problem was highlighted in the fixture between Salford and Warrington. Warrington won the game 68-16, a margin of 52 points. Warrington ended that season in 3rd place with Salford 12th, a difference of nine league places.

To back the theory of the closer matched the teams, the closer the margin of victory up some more, the year with the lowest league position difference was the year after in 2011. This also produced the year with the lowest average winning margin, coming in at just under 12 points per game. Whilst this isn’t always the case, it does show what can happen when the fixtures are decided as they currently are.

Magic Weekend has been a brilliant concept and with the attendance record set to be broken again this weekend, it is obviously a key part of the Super League season. However, if the RFL want a way to look to attract even more fans and make it a more competitive weekend fixture wise then they could look at changing the way the games are selected. One idea that has been suggested would see the current league table dictate the fixtures, with the team lying 1st and 2nd the week before Magic facing each other, with 3rd playing 4th and so on. This could see more competitive games as the sides would be more evenly matched than we’re currently seeing and make it a fairer way to decide which teams play each other.