This article first appeared on NRL.com
How each of the four pools are shaping up ahead of the 2017 Downer NRL Auckland Nines.
Hunua: North Queensland Cowboys, Sydney Roosters, Canberra Raiders, South Sydney Rabbitohs
This is arguably the 2017 group of death, featuring two past champions in the Cowboys and Rabbitohs and two teams packed with young attacking talent in the Raiders and Roosters. Canberra were the best attacking side in the NRL last year and have a mouth-watering selection of backline stars to choose from while rookie sensation Latrell Mitchell could become a breakout Nines star for the Tricolours.
Piha: St George Illawarra Dragons, Parramatta Eels, Manly Sea Eagles, New Zealand Warriors
The Eels are the reigning Auckland Nines champions, having improved their results in every Nines campaign so far, while home crowd favourites the Warriors are the only other side in this pool to have reached the knockout stages of all three tournaments. Those two sides will be expected to advance against a Manly outfit that made the quarter-finals for the first time in 2016 and a Dragons side that is yet to escape the pool stage in the Nines.
Rangitoto: Newcastle Knights, Wests Tigers, Brisbane Broncos, Melbourne Storm
They may have been handed back-to-back wooden spoons in the Telstra Premiership but the Knights have the best Auckland Nines credentials of the four teams in this group, as they only team to have reached the knockout stages in every year of the tournament. By contrast the Tigers, Broncos and Storm have only escaped the group stages once each, with Brisbane the inaugural runners-up in 2014 and the Storm reaching the semi-finals last year. Still, the Tigers have arguably the most potential here with the likes of James Tedesco, Mitch Moses and Kevin Naiqama in their backline.
Waiheke: Cronulla Sharks, Gold Coast Titans, Penrith Panthers, Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
The reigning NRL champions and 2015 Nines runners-up Cronulla have some brilliant backline talent with the likes of Valentine Holmes, James Maloney and Jack Bird but if they rest their stars it'll create some real opportunities for three other talented sides. The Titans and Panthers are both dark horses for this competition, with superstars like Jarryd Hayne and Bryce Cartwright surrounded by some of the game's best young playmakers, while the Bulldogs will be itching to improve their Nines record after missing the finals in all three tournaments so far.
New Zealand Ferns v Australian Jillaroos
The Kiwi Ferns have had the wood on the Jillaroos in recent tournaments, and these three matches have proven to be some of the best and most exciting rugby league over the NRL Auckland Nines weekend. With a World Cup at the end of the year, this could be a great place to start building momentum for both teams.
The Nines will take place at Eden Park on February 4 and 5, 2017. Get your tickets