T’was the night before Magic Round, when all through the house, every creature was stirring, even a mouse. The suitcases were placed near the door, packed with extra care. With promises to Suncorp Stadium, that soon we would be there.
You can feel the anticipation in the air across the wider NRL community. Magic Round was finally here. Breaths were held for many months with fingers crossed that the event would not suffer any major restrictions or cancellation due to COVID-19, and despite the fears of potential border closures due to a small number of cases, we can finally exhale. Despite being a young tradition in the NRL calendar, you can tell that this event has meant so much more to fans than just the opportunity to watch a bunch of footy.
When you look at the smaller picture, that’s what it is. The rare opportunity to watch every game in a single round when usually that is impossible however, the bigger picture shows a sense of community that rugby league has never seen before.
When the NRL first introduced the concept to the fans in 2019, it was received with many mixed responses. After the fact, some even dared to call the venture a failure. With a total audience attendance of 134,677, you could average that each game had an attendance of just under 17,000. In it’s first year, that is far from a failure however, rugby league fans love to sprinkle negativity over any change to the game. That was, before COVID.
The 2020 season was massively interrupted, and the game almost saw complete devastation. Although games were able to continue after a brief suspension, the actual game-day experience was altered massively. Capped crowd attendance, social distancing and restrictions amongst the fans created an atmosphere that the game hopes to never have to see again. In many ways, that sense of community that perhaps some fans had come to take for granted, was gone.
The game and community stuck together though, and we saw out one of the most difficult seasons the game may ever see. In many ways we are so lucky that we can even say that, given the circumstances around the world.
The second edition of Magic Round was cancelled entirely as Queensland borders remained shut and restrictions were at a high. We could only hope that things would be different this year and when the draw was released at the end of last year some people couldn’t help but scuff at the optimism that just a year after fans feared the game would never come back from the ramifications of COVID, we would be packing out Suncorp Stadium.
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The optimism has paid off.
Tomorrow evening, thousands of fans from Queensland and the surrounding states – perhaps some even from New Zealand – will sit down to watch game one of eight for the weekend.
The excitement amongst fans has been brewing for weeks, some even months. Social media platforms have been swarmed with fans sharing their plans and aspirations for the weekend, many including the fans that they want to meet.
Big T, one of the most beloved rugby league fans on Twitter, shared a list of the fans he wants to meet over the weekend. His list included fans from multiple different clubs and fans from different states.
For many, Magic Round is the only opportunity to meet people who up until now were just social media friends. Without Magic Round, many people wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet all the friends that they share the highs and lows of the game with.
Social media has such a power in people’s lives where it gives them the opportunity to make connections with those with similar interests but the NRL, with Magic Round, have gone the extra mile.
They have given the fans an arena to come together.
The magic in Magic Round isn’t just eight games in one stadium across three days. It isn’t just the opportunity to see all our favourite, star players in action live. The magic of Magic round is in the fans.
The coming together of thousands of rugby league die hard fans, all supporting different clubs and living across the nation just a year after we were all distanced from each other is simply…magical.