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REAL NRL: Season opener a ‘kind of magic’


Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) will kick off 2024 with a festival of football, frothies, food and family fun.

For the first time in the competition’s history, the organisation is set to open the season with a Magic Round, featuring all five Denton Engineering Cup matches at the same location on the same day.

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 at No. 2 Sportsground on Saturday 13 April.

The South Newcastle Lions, who receive the bye, will play a role as well.

Peter Mata’utia (Lakes United) and David Fifita (The Entrance) are eagerly awaiting Magic Round in 2024. Photo: Rod thompson

“We think Magic Round is a fantastic way to start the year,” Real NRL general manager Adam Devcich said.

“But, it’ll be more than just five games of league.

“We see it as a community event, featuring approximately 20 craft brewer marquees scattered around the venue for patrons to take advantage of.

“There’ll be food vendors, kids’ entertainment and a DJ.

“Music & Booze Company, the same business that stages the annual beer, footy and food festival at Henson Park, the home of the Newtown Jets, is on board as well.

“That’ll allow patrons to pre-purchase their own 10-to-20-person corporate marquees complete with a food and beverage package.

“So, it’s a day for everyone who enjoys an afternoon out.

“We’re extremely excited to kick off the season that way.”

The Tigers and Seagulls will begin proceedings at noon, followed by the “Rip Taylor Cup” – the Roos versus the Bulldogs (1.45pm); the Hawks tackling the Pickers (3.30pm); the Scorpions locking horns with the Goannas (5.15pm); and the Rosellas going head-to-head with the Butcher Boys (7pm).

I think people will love Magic Round, especially with some of the new signings in the Real NRL like Blake Austin (Tigers), Blake Ferguson (Bulldogs), Nathan Ross and Will Smith (Rosellas).

Peter Mata’utia

Also supporting Magic Round is City of Newcastle (CN).

And, councillor Peta Winney-Baartz, a self-confessed South Newcastle supporter, admitted she was just as enthusiastic about the idea as the players themselves.

“Newcastle is a hardcore true-blue rugby league town,” she said.

“We constantly see that.

“I think Magic Round is something, which can be built off the back of the success of the Knights… and, particularly, the NRLW side.

“This is a really exciting concept that will absolutely bring this West End alive – it will generate a great atmosphere.

“Like Adam mentioned, it’s not just about rugby league, it’s an event for the entire family.

“I’ll be down here in my red and white Lions’ colours.

“Newcastle Rugby League should be commended for these kinds of initiatives.

“I’m also the chair of CN’s Sports Infrastructure Working Party and we’ve been working extremely hard on utilising and upgrading our venues with the help of clubs and peak bodies like the Real NRL, along with state and federal governments.

“The use of this facility for Magic Round is really pointed, it speaks to the capacity and the standard of the field.

“I believe we’ll see a huge crowd here that weekend.”

Peter Mata’utia and David Fifita. Photo: Rod Thompson

Two ex-NRL stars expected to make their mark in April are Lakes United recruit Peter Mata’utia and David Fifita, who’s returning to The Entrance.

“Being a local boy, I’m excited,” the former told the Newcastle Weekly.

“I used to come around and watch games here when I was young.

“Now, it’s good to be back home and having the opportunity to play in a competition I grew up wanting to play in.

“I think people will love Magic Round, especially with some of the new signings in the Real NRL like Blake Austin (Tigers), Blake Ferguson (Bulldogs), Nathan Ross and Will Smith (Rosellas).

“Those names alone are going to excite the community again and bring a lot more locals to the footy.”

Fifita agreed with Mata’utia.

“We had Magic Round over in the Super League, which provided a great atmosphere, so I’m hoping it will be exactly the same in Newcastle,” he said.

“It should bring the community together, pretty much similar to the Koori Knockout where people from everywhere unite.

“I’m pretty sure Newcastle Rugby League boasts the best A grade system in the nation.

“So, it’d be great to drag thousands here to watch some exceptional talent.

“While it’s a terrific showcase for Newcastle, it has the potential to attract residents from the Central Coast, too.

“It’s not often you get to see the best players right in front of you – at the same venue, on the same day.

“Usually, teams are all over the place, from the Central Coast to Port Stephens.

“So, I’m pretty confident Magic Round will be a success.”

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