Rugby League eyes across the globe were on Auckland last weekend as the NRL took their annual pre-season Nines tournament there for the fourth year. Every NRL team participated and the whole weekend was deemed a success after the Sydney Roosters took the crown on Sunday evening.
The NRL use this weekend to promote the game in New Zealand and it’s a good way of opening the year down under with a rugby league festival. The squads are always mixed with household NRL names, upcoming superstars and legends that have retired. Year on year the fans pack into the Auckland stadium Eden Park, the majority of course shout for the Warriors, which is why this year on day two the crowds looked a bit sparse after the Warriors exited the competition early and dismally.
So, could we possible have something like the Nines in England? Many people argue we already play too much rugby league here, but let’s not think that way for now. Could we do it like the NRL, host a pre-season tournament in the Nines format, 16 teams under one roof? Yes January/February are tight financial months coming off the back of Christmas and New Year, but if the RFL were smart and tickets were cheap it would become an attractable weekend out.
Most fans will have been starved of their side in action since September and some lucky fans will have only been waiting since the October. This means the hunger to go and see your club will be at a peak. And the players can get their match fitness while playing in front of a decent crowd. The arena would have to suit it being a cheap weekend, so somewhere like Huddersfield’s John Smith’s Stadium, being in the middle of the M62 could be worth a shout. Widnes would be more ideal for the pitch to ensure the weather wouldn’t affect the chances of the tournament, but it would mean the Yorkshire clubs having to travel over too.
I mentioned before 16 teams but we only have 12 in Super league, well it’s simple… the four sides from the Championship that head into the Qualifiers would be invited to take part which could give those clubs even more of an incentive. Again, like the NRL, it would be designed as a pre-season tournament so squads would be mixed between first teamers and youth players. We could also follow the legends card where clubs can invite players of the past to come and play in their squads, this would open the door to a Kevin Sinfield, for instance, to come back and guide Leeds around the park – that would get ticket sales on the up for starters!
If we looked at this correctly and we approached this in the right manner, all costs to be friendly to us the fans, the stadium to be easily accessible to most and timing of the event to be in the new year, then we could be onto a real winner. A Nines competition with some of the ball-playing forwards, super speedy outside backs and past legends we have available in the Super League is so very mouth-watering. We’d all be there? Right?
*Picture: Melanie Allatt