Seven Things to Learn From the Nines
Much to the chagrin of Rugby League’s former most influential man, the Auckland Nines were held for the fourth year running last weekend. Every year you have to remember that it is a different game to the 13 a side version, but every year there are a few things to learn.
· Last year showed that the Titans wouldn’t be the pushovers that everyone spent the summer saying they would be.
· The year before saw Souths take it out and played a part in their huge burnout at the end of the 2015 season.
· The 2014 tournament was a pre cursor to what the Cowboys would do in the competition proper a year later.
· And every year shows us how the Warriors just can’t quite win a competition.
So what did we learn this year?
Warriors done before day 2 began
There has been talk in the lead up to the Nines that it might be time for a change of venue and the reduced crowd numbers on day two had some people speculating that the Auckland public may have grown tired of the Nines, however the biggest explanation is that the Warriors – who normally do fairly well in this format of the game – were essentially knocked out before even getting to the second day. The New Zealand crowd support their side pretty passionately even at the Nines so it put a dampener on the whole thing. I suppose that is the risk when the tournament is held in a place that only has one team
The Eels tried to win with defence
The Nines are fairly unpredictable, but one thing you can generally count on is plenty of flair in attack with less at stake than in the 13 a side format of the game. But Parramatta appeared to go in concentrating on a something else. This tournament is often criticised for having no defence but the Eels were out so set that straight. In their 5 matches played, they let in a total of 36 points at an average of just over 7 points per game. They kept 2 teams to nil (including the hometown favourites) and even in the loss that knocked them out of the tournament in the semi-final they only conceded 13 points. Unfortunately for fans of the Blue and Gold, their team forgot to score points at the same time in their semi-final. But the bold plan almost worked!
Souths were terrible
The Warriors were super disappointing. The Bulldogs also didn’t win a game, but nobody really expected them to with the players they sent. Souths sent over half of their first grade squad and looked well off the pace. There was little direction and less commitment from the majority of the side and the overall lack of competitive spirit from most of the team should have left Souths fans feeling pretty anxious about the coming season regardless of what you think of the Nines as a litmus test. The only real exception was Damien Cook. He is (inexplicably) fighting for his future at Souths as one of the very few bright sparks of their 2016 season looks to have his spot in doubt with the signing of Robbie Farah for the Bunnies. He did his chances of starting in Round 1 no harm with his display on the weekend
Gus hates it
Things couldn’t have gone worse for Phil Gould. He openly despises the Nines and ensures that his Penrith side only fulfil the minimum obligations. This year they claimed to have close to 20 players injured to allow them to send a second string team of essentially juniors. I imagine Gus was watching on in horror as those same kids won match after match to take them all the way to the final! It literally couldn’t have gone worse for him as the Panthers played the most matches possible, and still came home with nothing to show for it.
Young stars were dominant
It was a great tournament if you were a youngster looking to make a name for yourself. There is a lot of hype around young Kalyn Ponga due in large part to the contract he was offered to join the Knights. Nines is the perfect game for a player of his particular skills, but even still, he did nothing to dampen the expectations on him in Auckland as he showed the wider Rugby League audience what he is all about. The player of the tournament award went to the young Roosters half Connor Watson – who will struggle for match time with the incoming Luke Keary tagged for his place in the starting line-up – as he led his side to a tournament win. There were also great performances from the likes of Dylan Edwards, Jai Field, Bernard Lewis and many others. Maybe this will mean more teams will send kids…
Sending a names was irrelevant to results.
Which brings me to the next point – it appears as though this year’s edition of the tournament paid no mind to reputation. The two teams that played out the final sent mostly their kids, but it seemed that tactic actually worked in their favour. First of all, the youngsters are fitter generally faster, but importantly, they want it more and have something to prove. That wins games in most sports around the world. This was no exception.
Needs a shake up
I really don’t know why, but it feels like the Nines is on the slow descent into oblivion that it’s cousin the World Sevens fell into a long time ago. I personally love the Nines, and the die-hard footy fans will always tune into to get their fix of footy after a long off season, but this year felt a little bit stale. A little bit underwhelming. A little bit in trouble. I wish I knew the answer* but I don’t. The tournament needs some sort of shake up to keep it fresh and someone needs to come up with that idea pretty fast before the death riders get their way.