Nines don’t excite

IS IT just me, or are other rugby league fans less than excited about the coming Auckland Nines?

Okay, I concede negativity is an awful trait and too many are too quick to bag new concepts before they have been given a chance to prove themselves. And I hope - I really do - that the Auckland Nines become a popular by-product of the code, just as the world rugby sevens has done.

But despite the fact the prizemoney is $2.25 million and 35,000 tickets have already been sold for both days of the February tournament, something about the concept says 'Mickey Mouse'. I'm yet to be convinced the stars will align in Auckland on February 15 and 16, and uncertain many of them will, in fact, be playing.

Although the NRL is a massive business and player salaries - on the scale of pay for elite sportspeople in this country - are formidable, prizemoney in the game has seemingly never been a lure. It is the premiership, not the cash, the players seek.

Back in the early 90s when the World Sevens were played in Sydney, first prizemoney was $70,000, just a tick under what winning the premiership was worth. From memory the pre-season sevens tournament lasted three years.

In 1991 the Broncos won the Lotto pre-season challenge and took home $200,000 in prizemoney for just four games. Again, that competition lost its lustre and soon became defunct.

For winning the NRL premiership this year the Roosters won $400,000, and the Sea Eagles pocketed $200,000 as runners-up. By comparison, the Auckland winners will be paid $370,000 and the beaten finalists $240,000.

But quite simply, there is something about these pre-season events that doesn't grab the attention of the public - and certainly not the commitment of the players. And I can guarantee that while they might support the Auckland Nines in theory, NRL coaches won't be risking their big guns.

Can anyone honestly see Craig Bellamy taking his big three - Smith, Cronk and Slater - to Auckland in February, and new Cowboys coach Paul Green giving Jonathan Thurston the green light? Would Wayne Bennett dare risk Jarrod Mullen or Darius Boyd?

The agreement between the tournament organisers and the 16 NRL clubs guarantees that at least one top-five player will be in Auckland, alongside 12 of each club's top 25 salary capped players. On that basis the Roosters team, for instance, could be Anthony Minichiello, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Jake Friend, Daniel Mortimer, Mitchell Pearce, Aiden Guerra, Mitch Aubusson, Frank-Paul Nu'uausala, Tautau Moga, Dylan Napa, Sam Moa, Remi Casty and Jackson Hastings.

With no SBW, Maloney, Tupou, Tuivasa-Scheck, Jennings etc the team is not exactly hopeless, but the sheen is missing. However, with that team the Roosters do fulfil the agreement and that is why I just can't get excited - yet.


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