A royal Magic Weekend
It’s with great regret that I must inform Prince Harry and Meghan Markle that around 35,000 people in the north won’t be tuning in to watch their wedding. That is, of course, because we’ll all be making our annual pilgrimage to Newcastle for the Magic Weekend.
Fear not, however, you Rugby League royalists out there. Our two days in the Toon is sure to provide just as much emotion and excitement as the happy couple tying the knot. From Jordan Tansey’s last-minute winner to Jacob Miller’s 50m drop-goal, Magic Weekend never fails to provide memorable moments that would challenge even the most astute national occasion.
Hooley to get his chance
Wakefield were the first team to announce a friendly squad, ahead of their boxing day clash with Leeds. New signings Justin Horo, Pauli Pauli and Jordan Baldwinson are all set to feature, but it should be one of the young stars that catches people’s eyes.
Highly-rated Luke Hooley will get his first chance to stake a claim for Trinity’s fullback spot, as he looks to challenge Scott Grix and Max Jowitt. The 19-year-old has been given big raps by Chris Chester, after a successful 2017 that even saw him star on dual-registration with Dewsbury. He has a superb running and passing game that could certainly challenge Grix and Jowitt, so some good pre-season game-time could give him the break he needs.
Wigan do what they do best
Dan Sarginson last week followed in the footsteps of the Tomkins brothers, Joe Burgess and Thomas Leuluai in returning to Wigan after a brief spell away. The former London Bronco had a disappointing year in the NRL, with his attempt to make his mark significantly stunted by a shoulder injury.
He’ll undoubtedly cop plenty of criticism from fans, as players often do when returning from Australia, but it’s a great move for Wigan. With Anthony Gelling on the cusp of leaving, Sarginson’s return is a timely one and ultimately he provides even more competition for places in the Warriors’ outside backs. With Tom Davies, Liam Marshall and Liam Forsyth all pushing into the first team last year, Shaun Wane has a plethora of options to choose from, while there’s likely to be even more youngsters waiting in the wings. With such squad depth, Wigan will be definitely be contenders again in 2018.
Halifax staying in England
After the announcement that Toronto will play at Magic Weekend, it’s now been confirmed that their round two tie with Halifax will also be played in England. It seems the reason for the move is that the Wolfpack’s Lamport Stadium is unavailable – the first logistical stumbling block in the RFL’s transatlantic experiment.
It seems that venue/date changes are much more difficult to organise when you’re dealing with a team over 3500 miles away. While simply bringing the game to England may be the easiest option for the RFL, it’s left a lot of disappointed Halifax fans, players and staff, who now miss out on the trip of a lifetime. Hopefully this won’t be a regular occurrence, but serious questions will start to be asked if it does.
Widnes bring in Wellington
Denis Betts continued to improve Widnes’ connections with PNG, bringing in towering prop Wellington Albert. Albert follows outside back Kato Ottio in moving to the Select Security stadium and adds significant firepower to their forward pack.
There had been worries about the Vikings’ lack of recruitment, but with Albert, Ottio and Krisnan Inu all joining fairly recently, their squad is shaping up quite nicely. There’s plenty of youthfulness in there, but the likes of Danny Walker, Ryan Ince and Ed Chamberlain all showed they have what it takes during last season. I can’t see the Vikings challenging for the title, but a push for the top eight is definitely on the cards.