Why the NRL needs a dose of magic

Magic Round can’t arrive soon enough for those fans who aren’t enamoured by the politics of NSW rugby league and Sydney’s stadium in-fighting. For a game that wants so badly to have a serious national footprint, it still does a majestic job of disappearing up the derrière of The Harbour City on such a regular basis.

These are all worthy stories, of course, and grist for the daily rugby league mill as it mercilessly grinds away at an infinite conveyer belt of gossip, ego, point-scoring (of the non-football variety) and posturing. Some would suggest that’s what the game has subsisted on for decades; others find it exhausting, maddening and confected.

Hopefully less players get sin-binned during this year’s edition of Magic Round.Credit:Fox Sports screengrab

Sydney fans are undoubtedly invested on where their teams are going to be playing in the future and the divide between suburban grounds and mega stadia. Peter V’landys has been busy barking ultimatums at the NSW government, who in turn may have to consider the wild notion that other sports outside the Greatest Game of All may also be worthy of some input on where the millions get spent.

All the while, the NSW Rugby League and the Australian Rugby League Commission are headed for the Supreme Court later in the week. It’s a multi-pronged dispute that includes NSWRL board elections, the control of the NSW Origin team, state-based competitions and of course, dollars. It’s important… but one for the purists.

This is why it’s not only a breath of fresh air but a complete necessity that the game gets out of Sydney on a regular basis, whether that be State of Origin, a country fixture or in a few weeks, Magic Round. It’s a natural reset and forced conversational pivot from the machinations that frame the daily news cycle; distant contracts, officiating disputes, minor controversies framed as seismic fractures.

There has been good debate about whether the NRL should spread the love with Magic Round and find new venues beyond Suncorp Stadium, which has been its host since it was first held in 2019. What really matters is that it clears the state boundaries for one blissful weekend, whether that means tenures in Townsville, Melbourne or even New Zealand.

Let’s assume for a second this Magic Round isn’t completely overshadowed in a snap refereeing crackdown that ended up with half of the visiting teams in the sin bin at various stages. At one point, an outraged former NSW great bounded into the press box and declared he’d never watch another minute of rugby league ever again (we believe the boycott lasted precisely one week).

That being the case, the beauty of it all is that it gives the clubs (and media) a chance to take a deep breath, reset their thinking, start anew heading into a winter stretch that includes Origin and tell some of the excellent stories it’s capable of delivering when it escapes the bounds of its constrictive Sydney ecosystem.

Two of the top four teams after eight rounds are from Melbourne and North Queensland. The former has been a sight to behold, the latter intent on proving an army of doomsday pundits wrong when they guesstimated their pre-season ladders.

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