2016 Auckland Nines
Rabbitohs v Roosters: 12.30pm local (10.30am AEDT) – Day 1
Rabbitohs v Storm: 4.50pm local (2.50pm AEDT)
Rabbitohs v Eels: 11am local (9am AEDT) – Day 2
Saturday 6, Sunday 7 February,
The Rabbitohs return to New Zealand’s Auckland Nine’s tournament for the third year running this weekend, ready and willing to throw the football around after months of pre-season slog.
This year, the Nines tournament will see the Club clash with traditional rivals the Sydney Roosters for the very first time in the tournament, in what is sure to be a thrilling opener to proceedings on Saturday, while also later renewing their Nines rivalry with the Storm and Eels during the pool stage.
Rabbitohs Head Coach, Michael Maguire, named a versatile Nines line-up for the occasion that includes new faces such as Cody Walker, Damien Cook and Michael Oldfield – all of whom could do much for South Sydney’s campaign in New Zealand.
“The boys have put a lot into the pre-season,” said Maguire of his squad.
“Now’s the time that all the practice comes into the game, so the boys are really looking forward to the Nines.
“I think the Nines bring a great opportunity to all the players in the Club.
“It gives them that opportunity to get out and play together and work the combinations that they’ve been practicing.
“I know our boys are really looking forward to going over and seeing our young boys being with our old boys and starting the footy up.
“I think just the fact that they’re keen to play footy together – that’s the one thing I’m really looking forward to.”
A late change to the original team named on Tuesday saw Chris Grevsmuhl withdrawn from the side owing to a leg injury, with Cheyne Whitelaw getting the call up to take his place.
For others, such as Kyle Turner and Cameron McInnes, the 2016 Nines tournament represents their third time at the competition.
For McInnes, the chance to return to Eden Park for the pre-season tournament is a much appreciated reward for his pre-season training efforts.
“I’m excited – I just can’t wait to play footy finally,” said the hooker.
“It’s been a long couple of months training away, so it’s great to have been selected and to get the chance to head over there to get the job done.
“The Nines are a great opportunity for us to test ourselves – to have fun as well of course – but we also have a job to do. It’s what we train for so we can’t wait.”
The men in red and green have played a total of 11 Auckland Nines matches since the first tournament in 2014, coming away with eight victories, including their undefeated effort in 2015 that saw the side take out the competition in only its second year.
During both tournaments, the Club advanced past the pool stages, going down to hosts the New Zealand Warriors in the 2014 Quarter Finals, while winning a thrilling golden-point extra-time Grand Final in 2015 over Cronulla-Sutherland, with former Test player, Matt King, coming out of retirement to score the tournament-winning try.
The last instalment also saw three Rabbitohs named in the team of the tournament – Adam Reynolds, George Burgess and Issac Luke – with Reynolds taking out MVP honours.
Cody Walker, Damien Cook, and Paul Carter may be vastly different players, but each of them possess certain qualities that could see them playing a key role for the Rabbitohs at the tournament.
Walker gets his first opportunity to don a red and green jersey after enjoying an MVP season for the North Sydney Bears playing in the halves. Able to create opportunities where none exist, and with a lethal step, Walker may take to the reduced format game with the extra space giving him plenty of room to move and link up with speedsters outside of him.
For Damien Cook, this isn’t his first trip to the Nines having done so previously with the Bulldogs. Cook’s versatility could prove vital with his ability to play anywhere from hooker to fullback. Expect to see the livewire playing out of dummy-half at some stages, but don’t be surprised if you see him being used elsewhere.
Paul Carter had a solid start to his Rabbitohs career after coming into the Club’s structures mid-season last year. He now gets an opportunity to make a mark in Auckland this weekend, and much like Cook, his versatility could be a key trait moving forward – playing hooker, to back-row or centre.
Rabbitohs 2016 Auckland Nines Draw:
(Day 1) v Roosters 12.30pm local (10.30am AEDT), v Storm 4.50pm local (2.50pm AEDT);
(Day 2) Eels 11am local (9am AEDT).