Wigan brushed for Auckland Nines as Wayne Bennett gives event a thumbs up at launch
- PETER BADEL
- THE COURIER-MAIL
- FEBRUARY 14, 2014 10:40AM
LEGENDARY British club Wigan made attempts to play in this year’s NRL Nines as master coach Wayne Bennett today gave the pre-season tournament his seal of approval.
The NRL’s 16 clubs officially launched the Nines in Auckland today, with more than 100,000 fans set to flock to Eden Park over the weekend as interest in the inaugural event surges.
The two-day extravaganza is set to deliver a $2 million profit and such is the event’s popularity, Wigan approached tournament organisers with a request to take part in the Nines.
Their application was declined to give the event a genuine NRL feel, but NRL chief executive Dave Smith revealed the tournament could eventually spread its tentacles globally.
Canterbury coach Des Hasler and Canberra’s Ricky Stuart will be no-shows at the Nines starting tomorrow, but Newcastle counterpart Bennett hopes the tournament is here to stay.
“Everyone is talking about the Nines in Australia,” he said.
“To see all the talent in the competition in one group is pretty exceptional and that makes it exciting.
“I was part of the Sevens format a long time ago and I enjoyed that, it was a great way to start the season, all the clubs would come together in Sydney and I like this idea of coming (to Auckland).
“It had a lot of merit to it and I’m pleased I’m here, all the clubs have trained extremely hard and it’s an opportunity to come together as a group of teams.
“When it was suggested we do something like this, I was very supportive of it and I’m pleased we’re here.”
Smith said the 2014 Nines could be the first step is taking the concept to other international markets. Tournament organisers are open-minded about the prospect of English clubs, such as Wigan, Leeds and Bradford, applying for entry next year.
“We have already attracted attention and interest from the international clubs who want to be part of the format,” Smith said.
“We chose not to do that this year because we want to land this tournament but there is lots of interest.
“We’re committed to staging the Nines in Auckland for at least three years with a two-year option and I believe the event will get bigger and bigger.
“This format has a lot of potential. Once we get through the weekend, we’ll sit down with our partners and think about how we can make the event bigger and better.
“It’s a serious tournament and the event is a sellout. We will have more than 100,000 people over the two days and I believe we haven’t had a tournament sellout at Eden Park since 1992.
“We have really sparked the interest level for the greater good of rugby league.
“The NRL has a very clear strategy to expand the game and these are just some examples. The way Auckland has embraced rugby league shows how successful we can be if we try.
“We said we have a vision to expand the game and we are now implementing that strategy.”
None of the current NRL stars have experience playing nine-a-side rugby league, leaving many players scratching their heads when asked about tactics to clinch Nines supremacy.
“We have got no idea,” Sharks skipper Paul Gallen joked.
“I was talking to Corey Parker and Daly Cherry-Evans and they have no idea either.
“No-one knows what to do, we still don’t know whether we will kick long, we are the first game of the tournament so we can’t prepare.
“Our coach ‘Sharpie’ (Peter Sharp) has no idea either.”
Warriors whiz Shaun Johnson has a touch football background but admits that won’t necessarily guarantee he fires as expected this weekend.
“Like the rest of the sides we have no idea as well,” he said with a laugh.
“There’s no extra pressure for us (before their home fans).
“We’ll run with it and see what happens.”