Inaugurated in 2014, the Auckland Nines is a rugby league pre-season competition held at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. It takes place on either the last weekend in January or the first weekend in February and offers $2.25m in prize money, with the winner collecting $500,000, almost $100,000 more than the Premiers earn just three months prior. As it stands, the competition will run annually until at least 2018.
Whilst the concept of a Nines tournament is not a completely new idea, the scale to which this competition is marketed and played is something the game has not seen. First introduced into Australian professional rugby league in 1996 during the Super League period, and only lasting a season, Rugby League Nines features 15 players in a squad, with only nine players allowed on the field at one time. With unlimited interchanges over 18 minutes, it is a format of the game where the speedsters and the classier players shine. It allows the likes of Shaun Johnson to step his way through the defensive line and flick pass out the back, while fullback Greg Inglis can fly down the sideline and dive for the corner in spectacular fashion. There’s also plenty of room for all the forwards and the big hits that draws the crowds in the first place.
While it is still rugby league, there are a few rule changes compared to the full version of the game. Instead of six in a scrum, each team packs with five players - three up front and two at the back - and scrums only occur when there’s a double knock on. If only one team knocks it forward, it is a play-the-ball restart. Conversions after a try are drop kicks as opposed to place kicks, and the opposition doesn’t have to retire behind the goal line like they do in the NRL. However, the players cannot interfere with the conversion attempt. There is also a bonus zone under the posts when a try is scored, with five points being awarded rather than four. In qualifying rounds, a five minute golden try period will take place if it’s a draw at full-time. In finals, an unlimited golden try period is used to split the teams.
As we enter the 2016 edition of the tournament, the only 2 teams to have won the competition previously are the North Queensland Cowboys and the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
The Auckland Nines is made for New Zealand Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson. His step is devastating when there is 13 players defending him, but reduce it to nine and it becomes almost impossible to stop. Add to that his speed and playmaking abilities and Johnson becomes one of the most dangerous players in the Auckland Nines tournament. Johnson was named the MVP in the inaugural tournament two years ago, and if he is named, is sure to make a play for the title again in 2016.
Daly Cherry-Evans skill is no secret. In his relatively young career, he has won a Dally M Rookie of the Year award and a Clive Churchill Medal, as well as winning a Grand Final with the Manly Sea Eagles in his debut season. The Queensland and Australian Representative knows what it takes to perform in this tournament, having participated in both tournaments since its inception, including captaining the Sea Eagles last year. If he is fresh and decides to partake once more, he will make life very difficult for the other 15 teams taking the field the first weekend in February.
He made be wearing unfamiliar colours this season, but Parramatta Eels star recruit Kieran Foran is all class, no matter what team he plays for. His toughness and skill has made him one of the premier pivots in the game and he is sure to deliver in Auckland. At just 25 years of age, he has done it all. The New Zealand native has captained his country, won numerous awards and even won an NRL title back in 2011 with the Manly Sea Eagles. If he is given a chance to take the field in February, watch for him to be one of the stars of the weekend.
He may be getting older, but Benji Marshall is sure to put on a clinic at Eden Park at the Auckland Nines tournament. Like a lot of people on this list, he is a superstar of the game, and his lists of achievements speak for themselves. He has won an NRL title, a Four Nations trophy, a World Cup trophy and has even been named the greatest player in the world at one stage, taking home the famous ‘Golden Boot’ back in 2010. If he gets a chance to again captain the St George Illawarra Dragons in February, watch for the return on the infamous step!
Adam Reynolds may not have the flashy steps or the flick passes, but he knows what it takes to win an Auckland Nines trophy. Having taken the South Sydney Rabbitohs all the way in the last year’s tournament has him primed for another big campaign. While he may not have the luxury of running off the back of players like Chris McQueen and Issac Luke anymore, the 2014 premiership winner halfback is sure to make an immediate impact if he travels over to Auckland.
If he is given any time to run in the tournament, James Roberts will make the most of it. The Brisbane Broncos recruit is deemed the fastest man in rugby league, and with only nine players out on the field, it just became a whole lot easier for Roberts to find the white line. Hopefully his blistering pace will again be on show at this year’s tournament, because there are not many who will be able to stop him.
|2016||PARRAMATTA EELS||NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS||22-4|
|2015||SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS||CRONULLA SHARKS||18-14|
|2014||NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS||BRISBANE BRONCOS||16-7|