There are some doubters and doomsayers questioning the relevance of the NRL’s inaugural Magic Round this weekend at Suncorp Stadium.
Newcastle coach Nathan Brown is not one of them.
As coach of English Super League clubs Huddersfield from 2009 to 2012 and St Helens in 2013 and 2014, Brown experienced six ‘Magic Weekends’ in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Manchester.
He believes rugby league tragics are in for a treat this weekend and hopes they embrace the four-day carnival concept.
The Knights will kick off Saturday’s proceedings against the Bulldogs at 3pm, leading into the Warriors-Dragons and Storm-Eels fixtures.
“I like it. I think it’s great. I had six years in England so I had six ‘Magic Weekends’ over there, in some different countries, and it’s great for fans,” Brown said on Tuesday.
“If you’re a rugby league fan and you like watching other teams other than your own – to be there for a bit of a carnival, and the social side is very good as well – it’s a concept I hope the crowds buy into and something I hope can keep happening.”
Bulldogs v Knights - Magic Round
Brown said the Knights would stick to their regular away-game preparation and will travel to Brisbane on Friday after their final training run in Newcastle.
After their 36-18 victory over the Warriors in Auckland on Sunday, the Knights returned to Newcastle on Monday and resumed training on Tuesday.
“For us it’s two competition points up for grabs, and all the other teams going up there for the weekend will be going with the same feeling,” he said.
“I’m sure there will be a bit of a carnival atmosphere for the fans but from a player’s point of view, you’ve got a job to do and you’re not doing much different from any other week except there’s some games before or after you, that’s all.
“As far as our lead-up to the game and our preparation on game day, everything will be the same, so there’s no excuse for us not to go there and improve on what we did the other day.”
After a five-game losing streak, the Knights have rebounded with back-to-back victories to revive their premiership campaign. The win against the Warriors came a week after they over-powered Parramatta 28-14 in Newcastle.
“We thought the first part of the year we weren’t as bad as probably the table suggested, then we had that little wobble period, but the last few weeks have been good,” Brown said.
“Hopefully what we are learning – and we have a lot of new players in the team – is what we need to do to be a good football team.
“There are some really settled clubs and teams out there – the South Sydneys, the Melbournes, the Roosters – they’re very settled clubs and they come into the start of each year knowing what they’re all about and what they need to do.
“So hopefully we’ve learnt a few tough lessons and a few good lessons.”
Lee taps it back for Hunt
Brown named an unchanged 17-man squad, though NSW Origin centre prospect Jesse Ramien was named on the extended bench and could be included later in the week if he overcomes the shoulder injury that sidelined him against the Warriors.
“I would have thought that the guys who’ve done the job the last few weeks, and Jesse was in that crew, will be in there,” he said.
“If Jesse is fit, obviously there will be a tough selection call to make, but we’ll jump that bridge if it has to happen.”
Brown indicated utilities Connor Watson and Kurt Mann would continue to share the load at five-eighth and dummy-half, working in the halves alongside captain Mitchell Pearce and to give starting hooker Danny Levi a breather.