After initial uncertainty about the future of the fledgling NRL Auckland Nines, the dates and details for the second annual pre-season tournament have been announced.
The Nines have been set down for the weekend of January 31st-February 1st, 2015, at Eden Park – two weeks earlier than the inaugural tournament was held this season. The scheduling of the Cricket World Cup has, in part, forced the early staging of the Nines.
All 16 NRL clubs will compete once again in the nine-a-side extravaganza, with a $2.6 million prize pot up for grabs. The format of four pools of four teams, followed by quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final, remains the same, while the squad size for each team has been increased from 16 to 18 players. The inclusion of top tier players has again been guaranteed.
There were negative rumblings from the usual suspects earlier in the year – most notably Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy and prominent journo Paul Kent – regarding player burnout, and the validity of the tournament as a whole. The likes of Luke Keary and Jarrod Mullen suffered long-term injuries at Eden Park in the inaugural Nines.
But the overwhelming success and popularity of the tournament, which attracted sell-out crowds both days and was widely well-received, has ensured its survival. An independent evaluation of the 2014 event found the Nines increased Auckland’s GDP by $9.35 million, including $3.24 million from overseas.
Hometown team and overwhelming favourites, the New Zealand Warriors, lit up the inaugural Nines before being upset in the semi-final by surprise eventual winners North Queensland. But there were thrills and spills aplenty throughout a dazzling festival of abbreviated Rugby League.
Semi Radradra, Valentine Holmes and many others gave us a taste of what they went on to produce at NRL level in 2014, while established stars Shaun Johnson, Sam Tomkins, Ben Barba and Andrew Fifita produced a plethora of highlights on the hallowed Eden Park turf. Returning Roosters legend Brad Fittler’s intercept try was a landmark moment, while fellow 40-plus retiree Steve Menzies also donned the Manly jumper one last time.
The atmosphere was electric throughout – although it lifted several notches when the Warriors played – and arrests and crowd trouble were well down compared to the controversial Wellington Rugby Sevens stop on the IRB Sevens circuit.
Relive the magic of the inaugural Auckland Nines below – and then start planning to get yourself over to ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’ for one of the great occasions on the Rugby League calendar!
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