The Parramatta Eels are the 2016 NRL Auckland Nines champions after downing hometown favourites the Warriors in a one-sided final. Day 2 provided a stack of highlights as unheralded youngsters, overachieving teams and spectacular tries prevailed in beautiful conditions at Eden Park.
Roosters 26 d. Storm 7
Eels 24 d. Rabbitohs 11
Knights 21 d. Tigers 15
Cowboys 15 d. Panthers 11
Bulldogs 14 d. Sea Eagles 8
Warriors 15 d. Broncos 8
Titans 24 d. Dragons 12
Raiders 18 d. Sharks 6
Eels 12 d. Knights 8
Storm 14 d. Cowboys 6
Warriors 16 d. Raiders 8
Titans 24 d. Sea Eagles 4
Eels 17 d. Storm 8
Warriors 24 d. Titans 4
Eels 22 d. Warriors 4
Parramatta claimed its first piece of first-grade silverware since the 2003 World Sevens with an emphatic defeat of the Warriors in the final. The Eels got better and better as the weekend wore on, culminating in their dominant 22-4 success against the hometown favourites. Given the calibre of players the blue-and-golds left at home, this victory should provide a big confidence boost ahead of the 2016 NRL season.
Although the attacking firepower on show, in the form of Corey Norman, Semi Radradra and Bevan French, was central to the triumph, it was the Eels’ defence – not the NRL side’s strong suit in recent years – that underpinned their surge to Nines glory. The middle contingent, led by the squad’s oldest player, David Gower, was outstanding throughout.
Warriors escape electrifies Eden Park
The mercurial Shaun Johnson, synonymous with the tournament more so than any other player, produced arguably the greatest moment in the Nines’ short history, conjuring a spectacular, trademark solo try to give the Warriors a last-minute escape against the Broncos. Anything but a win in their final pool game would have sent the home team packing, and the crowd went ballistic – and the tournament organisers breathed a sigh of relief – as Johnson pulled the game out of the fire. Johnson was generally short of his best but still produced several pieces of magic over the weekend in an important hit-out as he makes his comeback from a devastating ankle injury. The skipper won a place in the Team of the Tournament for the second time.
Shaun Johnson Match Winning TRY vs. Brisbane (NRL Nines 2016)Upload: 40/20 Rugby LeagueSubscribe:https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdEsvl_u5ZS8DraTjwfaDGA
Posted by Everything Rugby League on Saturday, February 6, 2016
Titans and Storm’s semi surge surprises
Two of the least fancied at the tournament, Gold Coast and Melbourne were the undisputed overachievers of the 2016 Nines by reaching the semi-final stage in style. The Titans, desperate for some good news, scraped into the knockout phase on for-and-against before despatching injury-hit Manly in the quarters, while the Storm – arguably the most impressive team on Day 1 – recovered from an upset at the hands of the Roosters at the start of Day 2 to eliminate the highly-regarded North Queensland outfit.
Paasi the parcel
The man of the weekend in many eyes was dynamic Titans forward Agnatius Paasi. The 24-year-old Auckland junior, who played one NRL game for the Warriors in 2014 before enjoying a breakout year with the Titans with 18 appearances last season, produced a succession of big plays to lead his side’s unlikely charge. Robust and skilful, Paasi was the creative hub of the Titans’ campaign, and could develop into one of the game’s most sought-after forwards if that form continues into the season proper.
#NRLAKL9s Team of the Tournament – Agnatius Paasi.
— NRL (@NRL) February 7, 2016
Easy being Green
Blake Green was the other unlikely star of the tournament, steering the Storm around with typical understated class. The captain, who was easily the unluckiest omission from the Team of the Tournament, kicked two 40-20s and was constantly scheming and setting up opportunities for his youthful teammates. The return of Billy Slater had prompted some to suggest boom fullback Cameron Munster may take over the five-eighth role occupied by Green last year, but given the journeyman’s form in his first hit-out of 2016, there’s no way Craig Bellamy will be making a change in the No.6 jumper.
— Jack Brady (@JackBraydes) February 7, 2016
A classy playmaker who is finally getting due recognition for his ability and consistency, Corey Norman was a popular Player of the Tournament recipient after captaining the Eels to victory. The 25-year-old is coming off a career-best year in a fickle Parramatta line-up, and he should revel in 2016 playing alongside the likes of Kieran Foran. With Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford now out of the Origin mix this year, Redcliffe-born Norman will undoubtedly come into the conversation if the Maroons are struck by a halves injury crisis.
— League Unlimited NRL (@LeagueUnlimited) February 7, 2016
— telegraph_sport (@telegraph_sport) February 8, 2016
Pardon my French
What a prospect Parramatta flyer Bevan French is. The Tingha product destroyed the Nines record with eight tries and was the undisputed find of the tournament, impressing with his blistering pace and composure. The Eels are attempting to play down the hype surrounding the diminutive youngster, and Brad Arthur said post-tournament that French doesn’t yet figure in his NRL plans, but you’d get short odds on the 20-year-old making his first-grade debut in 2016. Semi Radradra obviously has one wing spot under lock and key, but French can challenge the likes of Clint Gutherson, Vai Toutai, Bureta Faraimo, Ryan Morgan and John Folau for the right-flank berth.
— NRL (@NRL) February 7, 2016
Ferns and ’Roos give women’s game credibility
The Kiwi Ferns and the Jillaroos produced two outstanding contests – less than two hours apart – on Day 2 as they solidified the burgeoning credibility of the women’s game. Characterised by brutal big hits in the inaugural 2015 series and breathtaking skill this time around, the improving standard of both sides and how rapturously received the games were by the crowd were genuine highlights of the Nines weekend. The Ferns retained the crown after notching high-quality back-to-back wins on Sunday but (women’s) rugby league was truly the winner on the day. Winger Mary-Jane Ale and halfback Kristina Sue scored sensational tries for the Kiwis in the decider, while Australian forward Kody House was outstanding on both sides of the ball in a beaten team.
Inevitable injuries put a Downer on Nines
Manly was again the hardest hit side injury-wise on Day 2, with livewire hooker Jayden Hodges potentially out for the season with a ACL injury. Cameron Munster is also expected to be sidelined for a month with a knee complaint, while Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has pulled out of the All Stars game with a calf injury. But those still complaining that injuries are a reason to can the Nines altogether are way off the mark – particularly in light of the long-term layoffs to Boyd Cordner and Mose Masoe after mishaps during regulation pre-season training.
Feeney escapes ban for brain-snap
Young Newcastle playmaker Jaelen Feeney can count himself incredibly fortunate to escape further punishment after being sin-binned for throwing the ball at the referee during the Knights’ quarter-final loss to the Eels. The Knights were hard done by with the ref wrongly ruling Feeney had failed to get out of the in-goal area, but the fiery tyro lost the plot by pegging the pill at the whistle-blower. Given the harsh punishment dished out in the past to players who mistreat referees (Wayne Chisholm, Matthew Ridge and Nigel Vagana, Jeremy Smith et al), it’s remarkable the NRL opted not to censure Feeney further – and clubs may well point to this precedent when attempting to defend future brain explosions. Meanwhile, noted firebrand Feeney needs to work on keeping his emotions in check if he’s to make it at the top level.
— Brent Ford (@Brentford26) February 7, 2016