Brisbane braces for more NRL magic
Nearly 150,000 fans are expected to pass through the gates across the next three days as the NRL's Magic Round returns to Suncorp Stadium.
While the weekend in Brisbane acts as a circuit breaker to the early part of the season, it also represents a significant juncture in the premiership race.
The 16-club meet-up in Brisbane is where the ladder begins to take shape, allowing clubs to know if their early-season form was a stroke of luck or if they really do need to hit the panic button.
This year the competition's bottom-placed teams, Newcastle and Canterbury open proceedings on Friday knowing their respective coaches, Adam O'Brien and Trent Barrett, will feel the heat if they fail to win.
On Saturday the event is headlined by Melbourne facing Penrith for the first time since the Panthers won the preliminary final on the same ground last year before sealing the premiership.
The pick of Sunday's games pits a resurgent Parramatta against an out-of-sorts Sydney Roosters.
The NRL would no doubt hope that this year's event is remembered for moments of on-field brilliance rather than carnage left in its wake, as has been the case in its two previous iterations.
The tournament's maiden venture in 2019 was overshadowed by a large number of injuries sustained on a hard Suncorp turf.
This year a wet track following intense rainstorms in south east Queensland awaits nervous NRL coaches.
"The ground drains unbelievably well," said NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo.
"Even though it's a bit disappointing that we have weather that is not ideal we'll be playing football and it will be fantastic football."
While Magic Round was scrapped for the 2020 season, the 2021 event is best remembered for the NRL's ham-fisted introduction of a crackdown on head-high contact.
While well intentioned, the 14 sin-binnings and three send-offs dominated debate in the weeks and months afterwards.
Abdo claimed the tough action had yielded benefits, claiming there had been a reduction in HIAs, high tackles and judiciary charges.
"Our sport is very dynamic, but we are very comfortable with the learning curve that has been adopted by the players, coaches and the clubs," he said.
The NRL say they expect a near-full house every day with 30,000 fans travelling interstate to Brisbane to generate upwards of $25 million for the local economy.
In recent weeks, there has been plenty of political brinkmanship about whether the NRL grand final might be moved from Sydney to Brisbane.
In turn, that has led to a to-ing and fro-ing over Magic Round's long-term home.
Even on Thursday Abdo wouldn't rule out taking the event to Sydney or Auckland.
"It's proven very popular here," he said. "Why wouldn't it be very popular in other markets down the track?"
On Thursday, the state's Tourism Minister Stirling Hinchliffe announced that Brisbane would be retaining the jamboree for a further two years before a deal had been officially signed off.
"Queensland is the home of Magic Round, Queensland invented Magic Round," he said, blissfully unaware the NRL pinched the concept from the Super League.
"Suncorp Stadium is the only place for Magic Round and it's very exciting that the magic will continue beyond this weekend."
MAGIC ROUND FIXTURES
Friday 13th May
Canterbury v Newcastle, 6pm
Manly v Brisbane, 8.05pm
Saturday 14th May
Warriors v South Sydney, 3pm
Gold Coast v St George Illawarra, 5.30pm
Melbourne v Penrith, 7.45pm
Sunday 15th May
Cronulla v Canberra, 1.50pm
Sydney Roosters v Parramatta, 4.05pm
Wests Tigers v North Queensland, 6.25pm
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