THERE was always going to be a backlash when Magic was taken away from Newcastle – a place that has become a hugely popular host since first staging the event in 2015.

And switching the six-game showpiece to Leeds United’s Elland Road in August has done exactly that.

There was a similar reaction in 2019, when after four consecutive years at St James’ Park the organisers swapped the Tyne for the Mersey and the aggregate crowd dipped from 64,319 the previous year to 56,869 at Anfield.

We have heard a lot of talk this past six months about how hugely popular Magic is as an event – hence the reasons why it has survived the cull in 2024 despite allegedly being on the IMG review list.

However, a quick look at the crowd stats since the first Magic weekend was held in Cardiff back in 2007 indicate that it’s all about the location rather than a deep-seated affection to retain a round that indisputably skews the league table.

This is a side point, but nevertheless an important one to consider when discussing Magic – but the way the fixtures are currently formulated to make them more competitive, ie 1 v 3, 2 v 4, 5 v 7 etc presents some teams with a more difficult challenge than others to secure two league points – a margin that could make the difference between sixth and seventh at the end of the season.

But that is a separate argument.

There is no pure scientific evidence to demonstrate the appeal of each of the five venues that have hosted the 16 Magic events so far, particularly as some have involved 14 teams and seven matches.

However, on the whole Magic’s healthiest crowds – including the record day attendance of 40,871 in 2015 – have largely come on the Tyne.

It is doubtful that the RFL/IMG have deliberately gone out of their way to wreck rugby league fans’ collective Toon love-in.

After all at times it has seemed like this has been the one event in recent years to put a collective smile on the faces of rugby league fans this past nine years. That smile was still there for the opening game of the World Cup.

Newcastle is a great city - one we have all enjoyed visiting so fans who have savoured that will be understandably angry.

Rather than a deliberate snub, it is surely more likely been a victim of priorities.

For years the clamour has been to rescue the Challenge Cup Final that has suffered dwindling crowds since early years at the ‘new’ Wembley.

Restoring the game’s most historic and prestigious final to an earlier date, following the list of football finals and play-offs that now take precedence in May, is an important move.

But by doing so it shunts the well-established Magic to a later date – roughly the time of last season’s cup final. There has to be sufficient breathing space between the three big events of Wembley-Magic-Grand Final.

And here comes the pain. By August, the football season is already well under way so getting a club to commit on a non-international weekend is difficult – especially one that is now a Champions League club.

Go any earlier in July and you are up against big concerts and pitch relaying, and late June is too close to the new Wembley date.

So I will join the mourning for Newcastle and the annual pilgrimage to the Crown Posada, but I do hope it was not for want of trying and no stone was left unturned.

Leeds’ Elland Road is an unimaginative choice – and like Etihad (at the time), Murrayfield and Anfield it has limited places to eat, drink and mooch, something that made Cardiff and Newcastle popular.

Folk will wonder whether places like Bristol, Leicester, Nottingham or a return to Cardiff was explored, but Leeds is more of a banker and will sell strongly, particularly on day 1 when Rhinos play.

And this is where it is important to make another point.

It has been clear for years that rugby league fans are not one homogenous bunch – and that difference often comes through at Magic.

There is one growing breed of supporter – and fair play to them - who want to use following their rugby team as an excuse for adventure.

They can’t get enough of Whitehaven, Newcastle, London, Perpignan, Toulouse, Toronto and Penrith Panthers – the further the better.

And you hear calls from some of them to be playing Magic in Dublin, Barcelona or Paris.

And some will commit every penny of their wages to do so and enjoy the experience, with their mates or with family. 

On the flip side there are those whose time is not as free or who maybe not as cash-rich and just want to get to the game and come home where their budget allows.

I don’t doubt some of those will quietly enjoy watching Saints play Wigan 60 miles away, rather than 164 miles. But immediately that will be countered with: “Well if it is not an event, just play it as another loop!”

In all this we have to say it was the right call to move the Wembley date - and now keep it there.

The problem that has created with St James’ Park is unfortunate – but at times like this it gives even more thought to the idea how better a Super League fixture list would be with a Newcastle name on it.

Maybe once the dust has settled on individual clubs’ points grading (wishful thinking) maybe IMG’s next task should be to look at strategic cities that would help the game grow – and may even be popular among existing heartlands fans.

I'll nominate Newcastle!