Having analysed the highest attended regular season games, excluding magic weekend, of the 2022 campaign, here’s a list of the fixtures in 2023 that could draw the biggest crowds.
The average attendance across Super League was 8,267 in 2022, just 83 fans per game shy of the pre-pandemic average in 2019 of 8,350, however the presence of a second French team may have skewed that with a lack of away support.
Instead this season Leigh are back in the big time and under the rebranding of Leigh Leopards, which some love and some hate and paired with their incredibly impressive recruitment they could draw some big crowds.
Last year the top two spots went to St Helens vs Wigan with the fixture at the DW garnering a huge crowd of 19,210 to take top spot, whilst the reverse fixture was just shy of 18,000, as reported here.
With the 2023 season just around the corner, here’s our predictions for which games will have the highest attendances of the upcoming season.
5: Warrington Wolves vs Leeds Rhinos – 16th February, Round One
The opening game of the season opens up this list in the number five slot and it’s a bold prediction given that the Halliwell Jones only holds 15,200, but for the season opener it could be close to capacity.
The 2022 campaign was a poor one for Warrington but with a handful of very neat signings they’ll aim to return to the playoffs, whilst Leeds have already shown a desire to turn out in force after over 9,000 fans attended the Boxing Day friendly.
In 2022 the opening game saw 13,108 watch St Helens defeat Catalans Dragons and whilst Saints boast a better average attendance than Warrington, the Rhinos fans will travel in far greater numbers than the French fans did so this is a fixture that could sneak into the top five.
4: Leeds Rhinos vs Wigan Warriors – 8th September, Round 25
This is a game that has all the ingredients for a huge crowd but only makes fourth on this list. Leeds boasted the best average attendance at almost 13,000 whilst Wigan were the only other club to surpass an average of 12,000 indicating that they’re two of the best supported teams in the league.
This fixture last year saw 13,168 turn up at Headingley however with the game in 2023 being near the climax of the season it could have huge playoff ramifications and could even be one of the games of the year in terms of entertainment on the field.
The most attended fixture of 2022 saw Wigan host St Helens in this exact same round, 25, highlighting that these crucial end of season games draw major crowds and when you put the two best supported teams in terms of attendance from 2022 together, then surely this can put up a huge figure on a September evening.
3: St Helens vs Warrington Wolves – 20th April, Round 11
In the Thursday night fixture to kick off round 11, this is a game that’s always well attended and will be even better if Warrington are to revert to their pre-2022 form and actually contend for the league leaders shield.
Last season this fixture saw 16,118 turn up but with a rejuvenated Wire side in 2023 it could clock even more impressive figures, and with that hopefully a more impressive game for the neutral as Saints ran out 28-2 victors last year.
Whilst this game was played earlier in 2022, round five, it saw an unbeaten Saints face off against a Wire side coming off defeat but Warrington come into this game off the back of a home game against Wigan, so if they’re to win that then plenty will make the short trip to the Totally Wicked Stadium.
2: Hull FC vs Hull KR – 7th April, Round Eight
The Hull derby is the second game of ‘Rivals Weekend’ and it’s taking place on Good Friday, a day when these two teams traditionally put up huge attendance figures and in 2023 that’s to be expected again.
This fixture last season saw one person shy of 17,000 head to the MKM stadium to watch the cross-city rivalry and in 2023 it should be more with both teams having new head coaches and plenty of new players as they head into the season.
The Tony Smith issue hasn’t been dealt with for KR fans and they’ll want to turn up in voice to watch their new coach, Willie Peters, and his young squad, defeat their old boss and the last man who led them to the playoffs. Both sides will be eager to make this one count after FC got embarrassed by a 16-man KR squad in the final game of their 2022 campaign.
1: Wigan Warriors vs St Helens – 7th April, Round Eight
Another game that features in ‘Rivals Weekends’ and specially on Good Friday again, is of course, the Good Friday Derby with Wigan hosting St Helens at the DW just hours after Hull FC host KR.
This fixture was played in round 25 in 2023 and almost broke the 20,000 mark with 19,210 turning up but with it being held on Good Friday and the potential that both sides could come in with an unbeaten record it may hit that huge figure of 20,000.
The only detractor that could stop this from being the most attended game of the regular season, as is the case for the game in the number two slot, is that it will receive huge TV coverage as part of a bumper Good Friday of rugby league, which could convince some fans to save money and watch at home rather than turn out at the DW.
Most Surprising Attendance – Wigan Warriors vs Leigh Leopards – 28th July, Round 20
This is a game that could have a larger than expected attendance considering it’s a newly promoted side in what could be expected to be a mismatch, however with the DW boasting huge crowds all throughout 2022 and Leigh having seen 4,226 attend their biggest game of the season against Featherstone in the Championship then a figure above 10,000 wouldn’t be a shock.
With the game coming around late in the season and being the eighth last game for each side they could both have big motivations to turn out and support their team in what is of course a local derby. Wigan could be pushing for a title charge whilst Leigh, depending on how well their recruited players fit in, could be in a relegation scrap or a playoff push.
The last meeting between these sides came during Leigh’s relegation season in 2021 and saw a crowd of 9,201 but by that point Leigh were all but confirmed as relegated and therefore the travelling support wasn’t there but a potential total of 10,000 plus could make this a game that’s worth keeping an eye out for.