Next weekend (February 4-5) is the fourth Auckland Nines tournament. While meant to be a fun way to open the season, others are not convinced.
Commentator/Swedish Chef look-a-like/five-year-plan implementer Phil Gould is a vocal opponent, saying he doesn’t care about it and injury risk is a concern, labelling it as a “money-making venture” (of course, his employer Channel Nine are such pure clean skins who put the welfare of the game above their own ratings).
So are the Auckland Nines worth it?
While the Nines doesn’t have the pure fun of the World Sevens, which featured NSWRL clubs and international teams in a massive tournament, it’s still pretty good.
For footy fans, the Auckland Nines is the first taste of footy since the previous year’s grand final (unless you count the Four Nations); after four months without footy, it’s a fun welcome back to the new season. It also allows the NRL to experiment with new rules. If they work, fantastic. If they don’t, then no big deal. There’s also the “entertainment” of the interesting jersey designs. Some are decent, others are horrendous.
One of the big criticisms is the lack of big name players strips the tournament of any real appeal. Does it really matter? It’s an opportunity for fringe players to get big game experience and soak in the atmosphere. With teams playing two of their three pool games on day one, clubs who choose not to send their big names will be out of contention by Saturday evening. No harm, no foul.
Another criticism is the inclusion of retired players, with Ruben Wiki (Warriors) joining previous veterans Brad Fittler and Braith Anasta (Sydney Roosters), Steve Menzies (Manly), Ken Nagas and Jason Croker (Canberra), to name a few. Cynics would say this demeans the tournament’s credibility and is a pure publicity stunt. It’s not like these veterans are charity cases, they’ve all taken the tournament seriously and done pretty well. I imagine Ruben Wiki will make a positive impact for the Warriors.
Another big plus of the Nines is the exposure for women’s rugby league, with the Jillaroos and Silver Ferns playing a three-match series.
For teams who take it seriously, are the Nines decent preparation for the real thing?
North Queensland won the first tournament in 2014 and were NRL premiers the following year, beating Brisbane in the Nines final and the 2015 grand final. Souths followed their 2014 premiership with the 2015 Nines title. Parramatta’s win last year led to a strong start in the premiership before the men in suits destroyed their season and the Nines title was stripped.
The Nines have been a success and is unlikely to be going anywhere. So if you want to watch it, go for it. If not, do something else that weekend and wait for round one of the proper footy in March.