Livewire Shaun Johnson will turn out for the hometown Warriors in the Auckland Nines. Image courtesy of Wayne Drought/AAP
The Auckland Nines tournament is based on the short form of rugby league and games will be played in nine-minute halves, with a two-minute break for halftime. It is unlimited interchange, with five tackles in a set. Five points will be awarded for a try scored in the bonus zone (four points for regular tries), with two points for conversion and penalty goals which must be taken as a drop kick. There are 24 qualifying matches, before the top eight teams contest the quarter-finals. The winners progress to the semis and the two teams successful there fight out the final. The inaugural winner will take home $500,000.
Rugby league's last venture into this format was in early 1997, when Super League hosted the World Nines in Townsville. That tournament was won by a New Zealand team which featured Test stars like Stacy Jones, Joe Vagana, Ruben Wiki, Stephen Kearney, Quentin Pongia, Robbie and Henry Paul, Tony Iro, Matthew Ridge and Jason Williams.
As hosts, the Warriors have history and a love of this form of the game. They’ve included attacking aces Shaun Johnson, Sam Tomkins, Konrad Hurrell and Glen Fisiiahi. There’s no 'Beast' - Manu Vatuvei - Dane Nielsen or Kevin Locke. However, the Kiwis have opted for a young, mobile and talented pack featuring Charlie Gubb, Raymond Faitala-Mariner and Suaia Matagi, with the likes of Nathan Friend, Jacob Lillyman, Simon Mannering and Feleti Mateo omitted.
The Cowboys have a strong squad, even though Aussie World Cup stars Matt Scott, Brent Tate and Johnathan Thurston remain sidelined. James Tamou is there, along with barnstorming backrowers Jason Taumalolo and Tariq Sims, while Lachlan Coote and Antonio Winterstein provide the speed.
The Broncos have gone for quality, with Ben Hannant, Josh McGuire and Jack Reed the only fit top-liners left out. Ben Barba, Josh Hoffman and Matt Gillett offer serious attacking flair, while Alex Glenn, Martin Kennedy, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker and Todd Lowrie add the grunt.
The Sharks are circling in Auckland Harbour. Stars Todd Carney, Paul Gallen, Andrew Fafita are their headline acts, with recruits Blake Ayshford, Daniel Holdsworth and Matt Prior also selected. Add in the talented Wade Graham and the destructive Sam Tagatese and that looks like a very competitive line-up.
Even with rep players Darius Boyd, Kurt Gidley, James McManus and Kade Snowden missing, Newcastle has gone for a frontline 15 packed with serious attacking weapons. Dane Gagai, Joseph Leilua, Akuila Uate, Jarrod Mullen, Tyrone Roberts and Michael Dobson supply the offensive drive, while the engine-room features Willie Mason, Jeremy Smith, Beau Scott, Robbie Rochow, Chris Houston and Alex McKinnon.
The Titans are taking this tournament seriously with Luke Douglas the only fit regular to miss out. Nate Myles, Aidan Sezer, Ryan James Matt Srama and Beau Falloon are all on the sidelines. However there’s still quality in a squad underpinned by Test backrower Greg Bird, former rep players Ashley Harrison, Dave Taylor, Mark Minichiello and Luke Bailey, as well as speedsters William Zillman, Brad Tighe, David Mead, Kevin Gordon, Albert Kelly, Anthony Don, Kalifa Faifai Loa, Brad Takairangi and Maurice Blair. The Titans have been in New Zealand for over a week, winning a trial 36-18 against the Warriors last Sunday.
The Panthers have opted for mobility with Jamie Soward, Matt Moylan, Josh Mansour, Isaac John, Kevin Naiqama and Etonia Nabuli leading the way. The squad features only two props, Jeremy Latimore and Sam McKendry, with Tyrone Peachey, Kevin Kingston and Lewis Brown adding extra punch.
The Dragons have built a squad around blistering speed. Their backs include Josh Dugan, Brett Morris, Dylan Farrell, Jason Nightingale, Sam Williams and Adam Quinlan. The forwards are mobile, with the likes of Mitch Rein, Tyson Frizell, Bronson Harrison and Trent Merrin.
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