Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Big security spend-up to keep tabs on Auckland Nines

CCTV images from around the city will be beamed into the events centre. Photo / Stephen McNicholl
CCTV images from around the city will be beamed into the events centre. Photo / Stephen McNicholl

Rugby league officials are spending $100,000 on bodyguards who will accompany NRL players during next weekend's Auckland Nines tournament.

The money will go towards contracting up to 50 security officers who will be assigned to the 16 clubs playing in the inaugural competition next week.

A further $150,000 will be spent on 600 security guards to be posted in and around Eden Park during the two-day tournament.

The move comes as rugby league officials seek to clamp down on a number of off-field incidents - including alcohol-fuelled assaults and driving under the influence - involving its players in the past few months.

NRL chief operating officer Jim Doyle told the Newcastle Herald: "We can't put guidelines in place because the majority [of players], when they go out, they don't get into any trouble. All we can do is be proactive and put measures in place to mitigate any risks we think there might be."

It is also understood that police officers will be posted outside a number of hotels teams will be staying at; while several bars and clubs in downtown Auckland have also been contacted by NRL officials.

Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah doesn't believe off-field behaviour will be an issue.

"We've got to understand we are in the public eye and this particular weekend in Auckland we are all in the same place at the same time and there [are] a lot of people here to watch us.

"We'll enjoy ourselves but we are here for the footy, to lift up the trophy on the Sunday."

Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah said the word "bodyguards" was probably too strong, but praised NRL officials for the move.

"This is a significant event and having hosts to oversee the teams and their travels and the visits is, I'm sure, very similar to what would've happened at the World Cup in the UK and the last Rugby World Cup here."

The Auckland Council is also bumping up its security measures for the weekend, when the annual Lantern Festival and US rapper Eminem will also be in town.

City officials confirmed they plan to reopen the MEOC - Major Events Operation Centre - that was used to great effect during the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

CCTV images from around the heaving city will be beamed into the centre, where officials will help ensure everything runs smoothly.

"You have got the police, the NRL, ourselves, transport operators, CCTV footage all centralised into one place - a command and control centre, effectively," Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) general manager tourism and destination Rachael Carroll said. "This is one of the first times since the world cup that we are opening the MEOC."

While Mrs Carroll confirmed it was in the central city, the exact location of the centre is a secret.

Officials based there would be "taking a view of the whole of the city and how the city operates".

Lessons learned from the 2010 Four Nations league double header - which was marred by poor crowd behaviour - and the 2011 Rugby World Cup, which wasn't, would help ensure the Nines weekend went smoothly, Mrs Carroll said.

"As a city we have become far more sophisticated at our operations than we were pre-rugby world cup. There has been an incredible amount of work both on the operations within the stadium and outside the stadium, and the operation right across the city. "There will be an increased level of security and police presence around the venue over the two days. People can really feel safe and secure coming to the event."

Eden Park patrons complained of an over-zealous security operation during last summer's England cricket tour, but Mrs Carroll was confident the right balance would be struck at the Nines.

The NRL's announcement comes just days out from a court appeal by former star Russell Packer.

The Newcastle Knights and former Warriors player is due in court on Tuesday in Sydney, where he will appeal against a two-year jail sentence handed down to him last month. Packer received the sentence after CCTV footage caught him repeatedly punching a 24-year-old man in the head, before stomping on his face, while the man lay unconscious on the ground.

- NZ Herald

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