Rugby League

DISCORD

Rugby league is missing a trick with the Auckland Nines

The increasing success of abbreviated versions of cricket and colleague Phil Gould's criticism of the NRL Nines would appear to be quite disparate subjects.

I'm told the Big Bash League is becoming the Humungous Bash with each passing week. A cricket loving friend of mine told me "the world's gone mad".

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Meanwhile, Gould recently said on Twitter of the Eden Park pre-season jamboree: "I don't like it ... I have zero interest in it."

Asked why, he responded: "Injuries of course. And the fact many NRL players are not suited to the game. Why should they be forced to play?

Huge potential: Sio Siua Taukeiaho of the Roosters is tackled by Tyrone Phillips of the Bulldogs at last year's Nines.
Huge potential: Sio Siua Taukeiaho of the Roosters is tackled by Tyrone Phillips of the Bulldogs at last year's Nines. Photo: Getty Images

"NRL players shouldn't be subjected to 9s football especially that time of year on that ground. It's money making venture for outside promoters who use our NRL contracted players without compensation for injuries.

"Not trained for it. Different speed, intensity, spaces, energy systems, play three or more times in one day. Not normal."

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The link is that abbreviated forms of familiar sports are very popular – and often an affront to purists. Rugby league can tell the British Lions to stay home and ditch mid-season Tests but it can't bring itself to turn down the moolah on offer from Duco Events to stage the Nines, which are great for the NRL's IP in its number two market after Australia.

Meanwhile, the Rugby League International Federation is trying to find a second property (after the World Cup) and is considering Nines or regional tournaments.

It has to be Nines – and it shouldn't be a "Nines world cup" either. It should be a summer (in the southern hemisphere) series, with room to grow. We can please both the abbreviated-sport heretics and the purists.

Rugby league's versions of Nines should run in the NRL and Super League off-seasons. It should involve national teams, not clubs. It should not involve under-contract full-time professionals. It should involve off-contract and newly retired players.

Why not have the Nines join the player market and offer contracts to fellows who are between clubs?

Willie Mason wants another year in the NRL – let's see how he goes for Tonga in the summer Nines circuit. Where to start? With one carnival.

The next territory that comes to the NRL wanting a comp game, a trial, an Origin or a Test … we ask them to show their wherewithal by staging a Nines weekend first.

The great thing about the absence of the full-time pros is that it brings Australia, New Zealand and England back to the field.

Lebanon, South Africa or the Cook Islands could conceivably win the thing, giving rugby league in those countries an enormous boost.

One year you have one tournament (say, on the first weekend in December), the next week there's three, then 10.

NRL and Super League players are spared, the game gets a slice of the off-season action in the media and sponsorship market and some careers are extended.

Hey presto.

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