Rugby League

NRL Auckland Nines: Canberra Raiders coach questions timing of pre-season tournament

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has questioned the timing of the Auckland Nines and believes it could be moved to a different part of the schedule to allow the game's superstars to take part.

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has questioned the timing of the Auckland Nines to allow the game's superstars to ...
Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has questioned the timing of the Auckland Nines to allow the game's superstars to take part. Photo: Melissa Adams

The Raiders on Saturday named a squad featuring several first-grade regulars, but also missing a handful of big names for the Nines to be held on February 6-7.

Star halves Blake Austin and Aiden Sezer are recovering from injury, while the likes of Jack Wighton, Josh Papalii and English internationals Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead were not considered.

PNG international Kato Ottio and former North Queensland under-20s star Zac Santo will make their Raiders debuts and Raiders legend Jason Croker will pull on the boots again at the ripe old age of 42.

While he is a fan of the Nines, Stuart believes its potential could be maximised if it was held at another time of the year.

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"There is room for discussion about the timing of it, because I think it is a great concept and it deserves to have the best players in the game playing in it," Stuart said.

"If they are going to keep this format and the concept of the Nines, I'm sure our fans would love to see the superstars of the game playing in it.

"We're preparing to play our season proper within five weeks and we've got players playing in a different formated game.

"Keep it on the calendar, but let's be smarter about when we're playing."

Raiders captain Jarrod Croker, who is playing at the Nines, said it was difficult to say whether the Auckland Nines was held at the right time of the year.

"It doesn't bother me much, I'd play footy every week if I could," Croker said.

"There's probably coaches and other people who don't want to play at this time of the year with the risk [of injury], I guess, but for the players, [we have] been getting flogged for three months [at pre-season training].

"You just want to play footy, you don't care what format, so it's probably come at a good time for us.

"I think it's a great concept and a fun weekend, so I'm looking forward to it."

The Nines is held less than a month before the start of the season on Thursday, March 3.

The Raiders begin their campaign at home against the Penrith Panthers at Canberra Stadium on Saturday, March 5.

Croker and Wighton have been named to play in the NRL All Star game on February 13 at Suncorp Stadium.

The Raiders will then play their one and only trial game against the Newcastle Knights at Orange on February 20.

Other clubs, such as the St George Illawarra Dragons, have decided to play a trial game on the same weekend as the Auckland Nines.

New Zealand internationals Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, NSW centre Josh Dugan, Cronulla Sharks star Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes are among the big names who will be on display at the Nines.

Dugan's Dragons are in the same group as the Raiders, which also features the Sharks and the Gold Coast Titans.

The Raiders have missed out on reaching the quarter-finals in their previous two appearances at the Nines.

Croker said the key to success was keeping it simple.

"You can get caught up a little bit too much in game plans for Nines," Croker said.

"You complete your sets, the other side drops the ball once and you get an extra minute or two, which is a lot in that game.

"The more complete, the more tired the other team gets because they're doing more work in defence."

Canberra Raiders' squad for the Auckland Nines: 1. Jordan Rapana. 2. Kato Ottio. 3. Jarrod Croker (c), 4. Brenko Lee. 5. Sisa Waqa. 6. Lachlan Croker. 7. Sam Williams. 8. Shannon Boyd. 9. Kurt Baptiste. 10. Paul Vaughan. 11. Jason Croker. 12. Jarrad Kennedy. 13. Luke Bateman. 14. Thomas Cronan. 15. Mitch Barnett. 16. Jack Williams. 17. Zac Santo. 18. Rhys Kennedy