After enjoying a successful season, it would have been easy for Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) officials to rest on their laurels.
But, instead, they’ve taken it up another notch.
Earlier in the month, general manager Adam Devcich and his team announced it would add a women’s tackle competition to the Denton Engineering Cup match day program.
That move itself has been widely commended, especially due to the popularity of the game.
Now, a Magic Round – featuring five fixtures – will kick off 2024 for the first time at No. 2 Sportsground.
Defending premiers Maitland Pickers, Cessnock Goannas, The Entrance Tigers, Wyong Roos, Western Suburbs Rosellas, Central Newcastle Butcher Boys, Macquarie Scorpions, Northern Hawks, Lakes United Seagulls and Kurri Kurri Bulldogs are scheduled to take the field on Saturday 13 April.
Grand finalists South Newcastle Lions, who receive the bye, will play a role as well.
And, best of all, the Real NRL is turning it into a family-friendly event, with several activations adding to the carnival atmosphere.
It’s a terrific way to start a new year of league.
Already, the first grade combatants have attracted several high-profile recruits in the off-season, with Blake Austin and David Fifita lining up for The Entrance, Peter Mata’utia joining Lakes United, Kurri Kurri picking up Blake Ferguson, and Nathan Ross and Will Smith joining forces with Western Suburbs.
Rumour has it a couple more big names are on the horizon as well.
To see them all in action on the same day, at the same venue, is very appealing to fans.
However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg as there are so many promising young players in the Real NRL, too.
Magic Round is a brilliant opportunity to showcase them to a new legion of supporters and, possible, NRL scouts.
It has the potential to attract public attention beyond Newcastle and the Hunter as well.
But, it isn’t the only original concept in 2024.
Later, on Thursday 25 April, matches are scheduled to be hosted by Central Newcastle, Cessnock and South Newcastle on Anzac Day.
Each club will specially commemorate the occasion.
The Butcher Boys are also trying something different, by staging their home games at 7.30pm, thanks to a lighting upgrade at St John Oval.
Meanwhile, the much-loved Sleapy’s Day, which raises funds for Sleapy’s Foundation, will become a stand-alone event at Townson Oval on Saturday 10 August.
The 2023 edition, featuring the Lions and Pickers, was a major triumph for both Newcastle Rugby League and the charity.
South Newcastle and Maitland will continue their rivalry, with no other matches being played that weekend.
Quite simply, Devcich and his crew deserves praise for the number of innovative measures they’re implementing to maintain interest in the Real NRL.
While some country regions bemoan the fact that the sport is diminishing, due to poor support and relevance, they continue to reinvent the competition.
Maybe that’s why so many former NRL stars want to give it a crack before they officially hang up the boots.
For more sports stories:
- Swimming legend Magnussen makes a splash at Cessnock
- Newcastle basketball stadium battle spills off court
- REAL NRL: Season opener a ‘kind of magic’
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