If Wednesday’s news that the Nines World Cup is set to finally become a reality in 2019 didn’t strike a chord with Super League, I’m not sure what will.
Rugby league, in my opinion at least, has been blessed with two or three really good, forward-thinking appointments of late concerning people who have the ability to really drag the sport into the 21st century. Kevin Sinfield’s move into a senior role with the RFL is huge; not only is he current so therefore knows the modern game inside out, but he is universally respected within the sport.
Roger Draper’s appointment to Super League supremo was also a positive move late last year. His experience of working in other sports will be crucial for Super League’s development moving forward. And both of those guys will now hopefully be leading the drive for Super League to get its backside in gear and get a competition-wide Nines event going sooner, rather than later. In fact, I’d like to see it in 2018 – and I think there’s a way to get it in too.
Yes, we’ve a calendar stacked out with games – and Draper hinted recently that any wholesale changes are likely to be held back for 2019. So there’s minimal scope to bring another event in: unless you ditch one we’ve already got in the process.
I like the Magic Weekend. I really do. But it’s the concept of lots of games being played in one big, shiny stadium on the road I like, rather than the fact it’s a round of Super League fixtures being played somewhere else. So can the concept in 2018 – at least it gets rid of the unfair and bizarre imbalance that you don’t play everyone twice, if nothing else – and bring in the Super League Nines in the same slot.
Have it mid-season: don’t do it in February when it’s freezing cold and nobody cares. Do it on a Bank Holiday weekend in May at somewhere like Newcastle – which would be a perfect venue for it. I would bet a fair amount of money more floating voters would be interested in the shiny new Nines concept rather than 13-a-side, too. The boom of cricket’s Twenty20 tells me that much alone.
Oh, and have it as a 16-team event too – with the four Championship sides who made the Qualifiers the year previous included – split into four pools. Pool A has the sides who finished 1st and 5th in Super League, as well as the Qualifiers. Pool B 2nd and 6th, Pool C 3rd and 7th and Pool D 4th and 8th. Top two in each pool reach the quarter-finals with an open draw. Based on last year’s standings, that means you’d have had this if it was happening this year:
Pool A: Warrington, Castleford, Leeds, Salford
Pool B: Wigan, Catalans, Leigh, London
Pool C: Hull, Widnes, Huddersfield, Batley
Pool D: St Helens, Wakefield, Hull KR, Featherstone
Try telling me Championship sides wouldn’t like the extra carrot of knowing they get an invite to the Nines if they finish in the top four. Suddenly, you make the race for the four in the second tier that bit more exciting too.
And if you want to be uber-brave and overly excitable about it? Why not reach out and try and give control of the event to someone like Barry Hearn. Sporting mogul Hearn has raised eyebrows this week with Matchroom Sport – who have transformed sports like snooker and darts – announcing their first foray into team sports: basketball and netball.
They’re hosting a special, one-off event – completely different from the usual, regular league action. So Super League could do the same. Give Hearn a call, give him a blank canvas and let him work his magic. Part of his success is making events like the darts transcend way beyond what is happening with the sportsmen. It’s an experience – the Nines would be the same.
The international game is waking up to the fact that Nines is vital for rugby league’s development. Super League should have at least a couple of goes at it before it goes global in 2019. It might be the thing holding us back.
Super League Nines live at Newcastle. It has a wonderful kind of ring to it.