One of the most exciting and dramatic competitions in world Rugby League takes place this weekend, with the second edition of the Auckland Nines taking place in New Zealand.
The event, which takes place over a solitary weekend, has garnered much media attention in Australia and New Zealand, with clubs certainly doing their fair share of marketing and promotion to give the event a big time feel.
Teams release special one-off kits as part of the occasion, with all the big guns from the NRL turning out in a weekend jamboree that celebrates everything that is brilliant about Rugby League.
But with a new structure being brought into the British game for 2015, is there even the slightest possibility of yet more change coming for 2016, and a Nines competition being introduced over here?
League Express understands that there could be some major developments in the pipeline regarding a Nines tournament for 2016, with Monday’s paper hopefully providing all the details of that – and TotalRL.com providing immediate breaking news on the details as they emerge.
The demand from the fans for a tournament of that type is certainly there – it feels like a long time since many people got to watch some meaningful domestic action, with that Grand Final feeling like a lifetime ago. Friendlies are good, but there’s no denying they lack the intensity and importance of games with a prize at the end of them.
There’s a whole host of stadiums to pick from for the event, too – if worked correctly around the football fixtures (which are released around June each year), then you could realistically head to somewhere such as Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, or even Leeds United’s Elland Round ground.
Then we get to the action itself. The Auckland Nines features 16 teams, so why couldn’t a UK Nines have the same? The bottom 12 in Super League get the nod straight away – and why not throw the top four from this season’s Championship into the mix, too? That makes a nice, neat four groups of four teams – and the fun can then begin.
Perhaps the biggest complaint about ANOTHER tournament being added into a season that could be almost 40 games in length (if you get to the Grand Final and the Challenge Cup Final) is exactly that – there’s no time for it. However, that doesn’t really wash, especially when you could potentially host a Nines event in pre-season.
Having it a good couple of weeks before the season kicks off would not only be a good replacement for a round of bland pre-season friendlies, it would also have a level of importance and intensity that can’t be replicated in those trial games. And the fans would get drama, excitement and entertainment like nothing else.
Clubs get extra revenue from ticket sales and (potentially) the one-off Nines kits, too. When you look at it properly – especially given the success of Sevens rugby union – it’s incredible this hasn’t really got off the ground before.
Book bands and singers, get sponsors on board and be as innovative as they have been over the last 10 years, and the RFL can’t really fail with a UK Nines event. Magic Weekend has proven to be a roaring success with a vaguely similar concept – imagine the roar and reaction the game would make if its 16 biggest clubs were all packed into one ground over a weekend?
Super League and the NRL have never been shy to learn from each other and adopt ideas from one another. If we want our game to grow to a wider audience, then events like a Nines tournament (if done correctly) could be the thing that catapults the game into the mainstream even further.