Does the NRL's all-in weekend still cast a spell over fair weather fans?

Does the NRL's all-in weekend still cast a spell over fair weather fans?

Trent is a big Broncos fan, has been since 1988. He also loves the Lions, and never misses watching their quest to end a near 20-year AFL title drought.

"The Lions have probably toppled the Broncs for me the past few years, but after the last few weeks I'm back on the bandwagon," he says.

Trent is taking his two daughters into Suncorp Stadium, having caught the train into Milton station, for the final day of Magic Round. It's a fair hike for them, having to enter the ground at Gate C, which is at the Caxton Street (opposite) end of the ground.

The big question for Trent, even if he is a self-confessed fair weather Broncos man, is why he's here with the kids two days after the Broncos 38-nil obliteration of the Manly Sea Eagles, the latest chapter in their 2022 'Kev-olution'.

"Couldn't get here Friday or yesterday, but wanted to get here and give the kids a taste of it," he explains.

Did you get to see much on TV?

"Saw the Broncos on Friday. Watched the Lions smash the Crows last night though. They're red hot."

Magic Round is a concept designed to give the competition a push along at the height of its annual stoush with the other winter codes. Queensland has backed the concept, Suncorp Stadium, and a $20 million injection into the local economy until at least 2024. It's not a showpiece, but a showcase; all of rugby league on the one stage. According to Andrew Abdo:

"It's unique for fans to be in a stadium and have a triple header, seeing teams they normally wouldn't see live... it is much more than football. It's an opportunity for us to get together."

Coming almost a month after Super Rugby's pilot edition of 'Super Round', a gallant but imperfect copy of the NRL version, the stakes of keeping Magic Round relevant continue to rise. 2022 brings a sterner test, coming amid south east Queensland's most recent deluge. Traumatised locals spent the week leading up to it looking nervously to the skies for the second time in three months. Would the threat be enough to - pardon the terrible pun - dampen spirits?

Both of Trent's kids are eager netballers, but they're wearing Broncos colours in perpetual support of Dad's sometimes favourite footy team. Their entry point at the Caxton Street end is housing the vast majority of entertainment and eating/drinking installations on offer. The sponsor tie-ins are plentiful. Kids pose for a pic courtesy of Harvey Norman, or sit in front of a big screen courtesy of Chemist Warehouse. The Swyftx Giant Human Claw is giving away $5k worth of bitcoin every day (it's a giant skill tester full of footballs.) Trent can have a shot at goal from in front of the sticks with Youi's magic kick, and wash down the euphoria at a pop up bar courtesy of either Bundy Rum or CUB.

The kids can pose with a mascot, get a spot of face paint or pass a ball in the NRL kids zone. They'll likely collect a FRY/NO FRY banner from a KFC brand ambassador on the way to their seats. There's also kiss cams, foot races between local front rowers, footy's being fired into the stands; all manner of gimmicks to deliver on the promise of magic.

Despite all of the offerings, the majority of fans in the ground are in their seats when Josh Papaali crashes over next to the posts just over 20 minutes into Sunday's opener. It happens right in front of a lime green wall of Raiders supporters; one of those seemingly PR orchestrated moments that kind of was, but wasn't. For all the energy the NRL invests in creating a carnival at Suncorp, it always will come back to the players on the field.

To that end, the memo was received. The Panthers' ruthless disposal of a depleted Storm side may have turned the headline match into a blowout, but headlines have been generously dished up elsewhere. The Knights finally found some form, the Broncos delivered their best of the past several years in an 'away game', the Warriors scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to almost embarrass the Rabbitohs, the Titans found something extra to break a painful losing streak in Golden Point. Canberra are performing better than they have in a while to keep the Sharks at bay. The ground is a bit under half full at 2.15pm, but all of the above jerseys are represented in the stands.

On the sideline, Mitch Moses and the Parramatta Eels are watching the Sharks and Raiders duke it out, ahead of their clash with the Roosters. It's got a junior footy rep carnival feel about it, and Eels fans lose it when Mitch and co. appear on the big screen. The cheers grow louder when Corey Harawira-Naera swan dives over to take the Raiders to 20-nil. He scores in front of a group wearing Canterbury Bulldogs jerseys.

Jordan Rapana crosses for the Raiders' fourth not long before halftime, and the on-field theme of timely form continues. At the break the resident DJ plays a remix of the Sister Sledge classic 'We are family,' pushing along the harmonious off-field theme as well. The vibes are indisputably good ones, and aside from a particularly ugly grandstand brawl on night one, the feeling has been celebratory.

In the hallway outside the media area, a black suited Sonny Bill Williams is posing for photos with fans. ESPN just has to ask if he's just here to watch the Roosters?

"I'm here to watch the great game of Rugby League my bro," replies the smiling former All Black.

NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler is walking the western touchline and offering thumbs ups to punters in the first few rows. Corey Parker is taking a brief time out from commentary duties to chat with some Broncos fans at the entrance to the level 5 corporate area. Ricky Stuart has taken to the sideline, spending far more time out of his seat than in it. Rugby League's greats, all in the one place.

On the field the Sharks are attempting to lift the tempo, as the Canberra supporters section counters with a 'Raiders' chant. The Eels and Roosters sections at opposite ends of the ground are nearly full. Sunshine has made an appearance as well, it now bathes the bulk of the Eastern Grandstand. The early attendance is confirmed; 30 thousand souls watching on, most applauding good footy from either side. The Sharks are ultimately blown away by a resurgent Raiders; Hudson Young streaking clear to seal back-to-back wins, Ricky Stuart's side joining the Titans and Knights in finding form on the magic stage.

The Raiders and Sharks are mingling with fans at full time. Jordan Rapana and Joseph Tapine perform an impromptu haka, joined by sharks sub Royce Hunt. The kiss cam does the rounds, expertly finding couples supporting different teams, and not one couple shirks the duty when its lens falls on them. A percussion band marches onto the field, smoke billows and lights swirl. A reminder here that this is Round 10 of the home and away season; not origin, and not a Grand Final.

The Eels and Roosters are underway soon after, the opening exchanges unfolding through a thick smog of firework smoke. It's still present when Jared Waerea-Hargreaves opens the scoring for the Roosters inside four minutes. Crowd numbers continue to swell. Tries are exchanged, before Brisbane-born Rooster Sam Walker channels a bit of Adam Reynolds channeling a bit of Alfie Langer with a chip, chase and regather to go over next to the posts, right in front of the Roosters zone. He adds a field goal to give the Roosters a 15 point halftime lead.

Singalongs are ON at halftime. The DJ's blast out a bit of ever-reliable footy rock with ACDC's 'Highway to Hell,' but it's the chorus of 'Sweet Caroline' that really gets the crowd involved. NRL employees run up and down the sideline amping up the vocals, while others wave giant magic round flags on the field. Keep the noise going folks, because the Eels and Roosters are back out. The floodlights are on, the distractions cease.

Ryan Matterson scores the Eels third of the half to get within a point, before Joseph Suaalii seals his double at the other end. The 18 year old, alongside 19-year-old Walker, have scored the bulk of the points. Reece Walsh was outstanding for the Warriors on Saturday, as was Jaden Campbell for the Titans. Selwyn Cobbo grabbed a maiden hat trick for the Broncos on Friday night. Rugby League's teenaged future, all on the one stage.

The Roosters hang on, and we have another upset. The 'Red, White and Bluesters' pumps out across the ground. Some fans are satisfied with their return and heading for the gates. It is a school night after all. More photos on the sidelines for Eels and Roosters players, more flashing lights and more smoke. One game to go, and just over 90 minutes later the Cowboys have put the Tigers to the sword. A fifth-straight win coming on the back of flawless completions in the first half, and Murray Taulagi providing one of the best try assists ever seen. Difficult not to describe the 23 year old's over the sideline flick pass for Scott Drinkwater as anything but magic.

So what defines a Magic Round, and what makes it succeed?

Is it a Reynolds chip and chase try (with Alfie Langer watching on), a Panthers knockout (complete with dizzying Nathan Cleary spiral bombs and a near superherman night out from Viliame Kikau), a near perfect attacking half from Cody Walker or the youthful fearlessness of Reece Walsh? Perhaps the persistence of a bleached blonde Cameron Munster in a well beaten side, the power of Joseph Suaalii, or the promise of Sam Walker?

The answer is - all of these things, all at once. Sixteen teams, 16 groups of supporters (including 30 thousand interstate visitors), wind, rain and sunshine, and some truly breathtaking footy. You could take all the corporate themed gimmicks away and still have a product worth keeping. The NRL very wisely puts the footy first; when the firework smoke clears, they recognise the source of the magic, and let it speak for itself. And they are clearly content, given they've already started spruiking the idea of it going elsewhere after its Queensland contract ends.

"It's proven very popular here. Why wouldn't it be very popular in other markets down the track?" asked Andrew Abdo, the day before the 2022 edition even began.

It's often said that a healthy game in Queensland is a healthy game everywhere. Fans vote with their feet, even when the Broncos are struggling. Origin time isn't two months each year, it's all year round. Suncorp Stadium rarely sees less than 20,000 in the stands for an NRL match. It could be argued that even a Magic Round without the Broncos, Cowboys and Titans would still prove a big draw. Whether fans in other parts of the country would give the same degree of unconditional love remains to be seen, but it would appear a safe bet, as long as the on field product remains the main attraction.

Trent took his two tired kids home at halftime in the Cowboys game, but honoured a promise to pass on some feedback from the experience.

His SMS reads: "Loved it. We'll be back. Go the Broncs."