St James Park may be hosting the Super League Dacia Magic Weekend, but proceedings got under way with a Betfred Championship round 14 tie between Toronto Wolfpack and Toulouse Olympique.
And it was the Canadian outfit who took the spoils, ending the game on the right side of a 43-30 scoreline to open up a five-point lead over second placed TO in the league.
Man of the Match Liam Kay gave an early indication of the Wolfpack’s determination to make up for last week’s ill-tempered exit from the Challenge Cup at the hands of Warrington.
He crossed the line in the corner at the end of Toronto’s first set, just 1:30 into the game - but dropped the ball.
Kay made up for the error just three minutes later though, opening the scoring after captain Josh McCrone gained the ball in a one-on-one strip and passed it to Kay, who crossed the whitewash again, and grounded the ball to give Toronto a 4-0 lead. Ryan Brierley’s conversion made it 6-0.
Five minutes later recent signing Matty Russell crossed in the opposite corner, converted by Brierley again, to make it 12-0 to Toronto in as many minutes and the crowd could be forgiven for expecting a whitewash.
But Toulouse showed the iron that enabled them to claw back and nearly win a 22-24 encounter between the teams at Easter and hooker Mourad Kriouache scored a well-worked try from dummy half, converted by Mark Kheirallah to bring Tououse back into the game.
Andrew Dixon lengthened Toronto's lead to 16-6 on 30 minutes, but just before half-time Anthony Marion crossed for Toulouse, after good play by Jonathon Ford. The touch-judges raised the flags - controversially - for Kheirallah’s kick and the half time score was 16-12.
And the officials’ first decision of the second half was equally questionable. Kay repeated his performance from the opening minutes of the first half, crossing the line, but dropping the ball onto the touchline just short of the corner flag.
The unsighted touchjudge and referee awarded a try, though, which Brierley duly converted to stretch Toronto’s lead to 22-12.
Over the next 10 minutes, Brierley scored a try, which he converted himself, and Kay completed his hat-trick - with a legitimate score – for a 32-12 scoreline.
Toulouse hit back through hooker Charles Bouzinac, who burrowed over from dummy half and another Kheirallah conversion.
But then Toronto took the game absolutely beyond reach. Jake Stankley scored in the corner, Brierley kicked a drop goal which went in off the post, and Sam Hopkins crossed under the posts, after a break by Richard Whiting, for a converted try which took the score to 43-18.
But Rhys Curren on 75 minutes and Ford, on 80, restored pride to the French team for a final score of 43-30.
Playing a Championship match at Magic may have been controversial, but this match, which brought some exotica to Newcastle, showed that at least this year’s middle 8s – which may be the last in the current format – will be interesting, at the least.