It has been hailed as the competition of a decade, where 16 teams and 256 players go head to head over a two day period, in a series of brutal, yet entertaining matches, vying for the dream prize of 2.25 million dollars.
But it prompts the question, is the competition worth the risk of injury to first team players right before the season opener? With a major injury to exciting Rabbitohs’ playmaker, Luke Keary (torn pectoral), leaving a major hole in the Rabbitohs’ plans, in which he was to form a dynamic partnership with fellow young playmaker Adam Reynolds, their season has been turned on its head. All for the shot at a big pay cheque.
Rabbitohs’ coach Michael Maguire has attempted to brush off suggestions the team will suffer as a result of the injury, by tipping exciting prospect Dylan Walker as a bolter for the number 6 jersey “I have learnt I have to cover a few things, we have a few options there with Dylan Walker.” Wanting to keep last year’s successful five-eighth, John Sutton, in the forwards, Maguire cannot simply think their season will be smooth sailing with their plans now taking a massive turn, no matter how strong a façade he portrays. With the loss of Keary, they lose an exciting, dynamic playmaker who was going to be the backbone of their attacking play. Other big name injuries, some also for a lengthy period, include: David Williams, Lachlan Coote, Jarrod Mullen, Mitchell Pearce, Dave Taylor, Todd Carney, Curtis Sironen and Ben Barba.
This brings us back to the earlier question, is the injury risk worth the shot at a big pay cheque? Warriors coach Matthew Elliot sees the ‘Auckland Nines’ as a hugely successful initiative, “I thought it was a fantastic event for rugby league. I’ve got nothing but superlatives”. Elliot, however, thinks the rules can be tweaked to prevent injury, mainly by changing the squad numbers from 16 to 20 “My one suggestion is they need to allow teams to have more players, bigger squads, so you can rest four players at a time,” the extra players would also create more exciting gameplay as the tournament carries on.
Although there is an issue with injuries, the competition has received resounding praise from coaches and players alike, as it has increased the exposure of Rugby League, and it has also given clubs the chance to bleed through, young, exciting players. These players have shown they have plenty to offer, with eight of the nine ‘players of the tournament’ being aged 25 years or younger. Whichever way you feel about it, it seems that the ‘Nines’ is here to stay and will undoubtedly keep growing into what could be a global campaign.