Warrington were the stars of the second day of the Magic Weekend, beating St Helens 41-24 to prevent them going top of Super League.
The Sunday programme did not always match the glories of the previous day for drama, quality of play or numbers watching, but that did not worry the Wolves as they produced their best performance of the season.
“I think it’s been pretty successful,” the victorious coach, Tony Smith, said of the weekend. “It certainly was for us.” Saints captain Paul Wellens described his team’s performance as “embarrassing.”
Warrington made a magical start, both their wingers, Gene Ormsby and Rhys Evans, scoring early on. Saints were still in disarray when Chris Hill grabbed a third from Ben Westwood’s killer pass, followed by Evans’ second.
There was a hint of a changing of the tide when Ormsby was sin-binned and Alex Walmsley got one back, but Saints were soon slapped down again by Ryan Atkins.
Joel Monaghan and Matty Russell added further indignity before some face-saving from Jordan Turner and Lance Hohaia, which almost amounted to one of St Helens’ famous fightbacks.
When Matty Dawson dived in, a huge turnaround was suddenly possible, but Stefan Ratchford’s drop-goal put paid to that before Monaghan strode away for his second.
In the first game of the day, Castleford, the surprise packet of the season so far, were far too good for their neighbours, Wakefield. The Tigers won 50-12, Justin Carney, Daryl Clark and Marc Sneyd each scoring two tries.
Struggling Bradford gave a better account of themselves in the first half against Huddersfield. They led by early tries from Danny Addy and Jamie Foster, only fell behind after 25 minutes but eventually lost 54-16, with Danny Brough accumulating 22 points.
The four Saturday games, watched by a record first-day crowd of 36,339, out of a total of almost 65,000, were a wonderful illustration of the range the code can offer.
London Broncos were unlucky not to get their first points – or at least point – of the season against Catalan Dragons. There was some marvellously enterprising rugby from Kevin Brown and Rangi Chase as Widnes edged out Salford.
The Hull derby was all you would expect, holding the attention despite the city’s involvement in the FA Cup final. Best of all, a supposedly weakened Wigan and the Super League leaders, Leeds, played with even more intensity and aggression than they usually reserve for each other, with three men sin-binned before the Warriors won out.
It was the best day’s rugby the Magic Weekend has staged in its short history. All four results were in doubt going into the last five minutes and the games were played in a carnival atmosphere. Yesterday could not quite equal it, but there was already more than enough evidence of the worth of the event.
The remarkable thing for the uninitiated is that the supporters of 14 teams, with all their assorted grudges against each other, can sit together, drink together, wait for the video referee together, wind each other up and still remain on good terms. It is something of which rugby league is rightly proud and it is nowhere better illustrated than over the Magic Weekend. The crowd was noisier and more colourful than in any previous year. There was even a “first” when the Hull and Hull KR fans united in acclamation of City’s two-goal lead at Wembley.
For the third year running the sun shone on the Magic Weekend, which made all the difference to the rugby league theme park that surrounded the Etihad Stadium and to the calibre of the rugby inside.
That abundant space for fun and games is another reason why Manchester City are the ideal hosts for this annual feel-good festival, although the continuity could be threatened next year by ground improvements.
Then there is the reorganisation of Super League and the divisions below it. An extra game on neutral territory might not always have the same appeal to already overworked players.
In an era when sport is increasingly about set-piece events, the Magic Weekend, be it in Cardiff, Edinburgh or Manchester, has established itself as one to savour.