The third Auckland Nines tournament is now just one sleep away, and plenty has been learnt about the reduced format game since first being staged in 2014. In anticipation, we walk through nine of those lessons as the men in red and green prepare to defend their title.
#1 This is no trial
Any suggestion that the pre-season tournament was merely a trial quickly evaporated when the concept came into being. With approximately 90,000 spectators expected to attend the tournament over the two days of competition, the event is not to be taken lightly. Playing both for silverware, pride and prize money, the teams selected for the tournament look to blood new prospects whilst ensuring the best chance of success, with the latter proving to be the key focus.
#2 Diversity is key
The formula for the right kind of Auckland Nines line-up is still a little-known quantity that is up for debate, despite the two years of competition. For South Sydney’s part, a combination of all styles of player have featured in both tournaments, with forwards making up a substantial portion of the squad, as well as accounting for 14 tries in the 2015 tournament. The optimum mixture of players for each team tends to becomes more apparent with every game.
#3 Men with speed + extra space = extra thrills
Undeniably, the rule adjustments formulated for the Auckland Nines tournament introduces an added element of excitement through promoting an attacking brand of football. With the increased amount of space available owing to the fewer players on the field, the importance of speed and acceleration is heightened. The previous two tournaments have seen some enthralling tries, many of which have occurred as a result of displays of freakish pace – a trend that will no doubt continue into the 2016 tournament.
#4 Creative types come into their own
Similarly to the speedsters, players known for their creativity benefit greatly from the extra space provided in the reduced format competition. With more freedom on the field, these individuals are afforded the chance to display some flamboyance in attack. The impact of these types of players has been highlighted in both the 2014 and 2015 series, with Shaun Johnson and Adam Reynolds becoming the first two to take MVP honours at the tournament.
#5 Bonus Zone tries matter
Since the tournament’s inception, Bonus Zone tries have featured throughout. An Auckland Nines initiative, the Bonus Zone try refers to a five-point try awarded when a try is scored in the in-goal area between the goal posts at each end. With the matches consisting of two 9 minutes halves, attacking opportunities are limited and must be capitalized upon. Although the additional point for a try may seem minimal, it could be all a team needs to claim victory.
#6 Young guns get their chance on the big stage
As illustrated in the previous instalments of the tournament, the Auckland Nines has proved to be an opportunity for the rising stars of Rugby League to play on the big stage and showcase their ability against some of the game’s best. Last year, the competition provided fans with their first glimpse of a number of young-guns coming into the top grade, including Souths’ own Chris Grevsmuhl, who went on to play first-grade in 2015.