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Five things we learned from this week #15

Ben Barba Saints

Where next for Magic?

The annual Rugby League pilgrimage to Newcastle certainly lived up to its name this year, but where will be its next destination?

No venue has hosted the event for more than three years and with Newcastle reaching that mark this year, it’s looking likely that it will be somewhere else in 2018. Coventry and Liverpool are the main destinations being mentioned but I don’t see why it can’t stay in ‘the toon’. It’s been a resounding success during its tenancy, with the stadium being right in the city centre and the city as a whole being an ideal place for such an event. The local economy in Newcastle thrives over the weekend too, so it benefits both Rugby League and the city itself. As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Transfer Tradition

The week leading up to the Magic Weekend always seems to be full of drama – particularly in the transfer market. Whether it’s deliberate or totally by coincidence, you can just about always guarantee at least one Magic Weekend debut. Names such as Jarrod Sammut, Paul Cooke and Taulima Tautai come to mind.

This year was no different, with no more than 5 players making their debut. Rangi Chase, Jack Johnson and Sam Wilde all featured for Widnes on Saturday, with Johnson being the standout. While Martyn Ridyard and Matty Fleming shone for Huddersfield and Leigh respectively. The season is reaching crunch-time, with every club looking to strengthen ahead of the Super 8’s. Expect further player movements in the coming weeks.

Race for the Top is on

The top four race is really starting to hot up, with six teams vying for top spot. Just six points separates sixth place Wigan with leaders Castleford, while there four other teams all in the mix.

Magic Weekend saw a real shift at the top, with Leeds’ loss to the Tigers opening the door for Salford and Hull to put pressure on the league leaders. Despite being down on troops, Wigan still look strong. The Warriors’ youngsters have impressed, but when they’re back to full complement they should be right up there challenging for the title. Wakefield are dark horses as well though, so don’t discount them just yet.

Saints Resurgence

There was much speculation as to what effect Justin Holbrook’s presence would have on his new St Helens side. And if Saturday’s performance is anything to go by, this could where they start to turn their season around.

With just five wins in 13 games, Saints’ push for the top four was looking bleak, but with a 45-0 demolition of Hull on Saturday, the signs are positive. Hull were far from their best but that shouldn’t take away from an efficient and confident St Helens performance; something they’ve lacked all year. 1-17 were we’re all at their best, but the efforts of Alex Walmsley particularly stood out. The prop carried extremely well and came away with a rare brace of tries. It will be a tragedy if he misses out on England selection in October.

Barba set for Super League

NRL Premiership winner Ben Barba was in the crowd on Saturday, amid rumours he’s on his way to Super League. The former Canterbury, Brisbane and Cronulla man was recently told he isn’t need at French RU club Toulon and with a 12-week suspension still to be served in the NRL, a move to England seems like the likely option.

St Helens and Warrington are favourites for his signature, with Catalan also said to be keen. A move to the Saints would be ideal, as Jonny Lomax is set to leave the Totally Wicked stadium having fallen down the pecking order. And with new coach Justin Holbrook looking to change his side’s playing style, Barba could be the breath of fresh air the club need as they look turn their season around.

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