Time to give nines a blast at Magic

St Helens Star: Tommy Makinson - would relish the space in nines rugby league Tommy Makinson - would relish the space in nines rugby league

ANYBODY remember the British Coal Nines? Admittedly, about a quarter of our readership are wondering what coal is, especially British coal, but bear with me.

The British Coal Nines was a nine-a-side rugby league event held at Wigan’s Central Park in the 80s.

Highlights of quirky little competition were shown on BBC’s Sportsnight, but my memories are limited to cheering Papua New Guinea from the clubhouse end against Wigan in ’87 and seeing Saints’ Welsh wing Michael Carrington falsely build our hopes up by crashing through Martin Offiah to score against Widnes in 1988.

Of course, talk of nines rugby has been triggered by the success of the recent two-day tournament held in New Zealand.

Organisers of the Auckland event showed how to do it, with all 16 NRL teams battling for a share of the $2 million prize money through 30 matches before North Queensland Cowboys triumphed against Brisbane Broncos in the showpiece Eden Park final.

The fans responded, with 89,003 spinning through the turnstiles over the course of the two days.

Afterwards the New Zealand Warriors owner Eric Watson remarked that the competition had created almost unprecedented interest in rugby league in New Zealand. Great news.

Its success and popularity – particularly beyond the traditional support base – is built on the short format of two nine minute halves and the open spaces that can be exploited by the speedsters.

Rugby union has traditionally tapped into the same appeal over the years with its domestic and international sevens competitions – and that will be further boosted at Rio 2016 with its inclusion in the Olympics for the first time.

There is a lot to like about the nines concept. It is a competition that could showcase all that is good about rugby league, tap into audiences beyond the norm and create another piece of competitive silverware for clubs to fight for.

Surely the Auckland success should give Super League some food for thought.

Of course, there is the issue of scheduling and how we would fit this in, but the answer looks pretty obvious.

The Magic Weekend, since its retreat from Cardiff and Edinburgh, has ceased to fulfil its evangelical purpose.

It lingers around now purely to give a day out to fans of clubs who, starved of Wembley and Old Trafford visits, can see their teams on a big stage and just imagine.

There is nothing wrong with that, but the cynic in me feels that Magic’s real purpose is to artificially skew the league to stop anyone claiming that the team finishing top of the pile should be called the champions.

So let’s ditch Magic and replace it with a two day feast of nines rugby – held in Manchester, London or Cardiff – which would be an eye-catching and innovative way to break up the season.

We could even return the compliment afforded to league sides by the Middlesex Sevens and throw in a wild card invitation to Bath or Saracens rugby union outfits.

That would surely get our game some much-needed column inches.

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