Nines out to rival capital's sevens

By Steve Deane

Auckland Council hopes the league nines will be more fun than the Wellington sevens (above). Photo / Mark Mitchell
Auckland Council hopes the league nines will be more fun than the Wellington sevens (above). Photo / Mark Mitchell

Organisers hope Auckland's new league nines tournament - to be held in February at Eden Park - will rival Wellington's hugely popular sevens event.

It is hoped the National Rugby League (NRL) nines will attract 100,000 spectators to the stadium over February 15 and 16.

Auckland Council is understood to be bankrolling the tournament to the tune of more than $10 million over the next five years.

After 18 months of negotiations, a three-way deal between the NRL, Auckland Council's events arm Ateed and promoters Zenith - a subsidiary of boxing and celebrity event promotor Duco Events - was finally settled at a meeting of NRL chief executives on Monday.

All three parties have remained quiet about the details of the tournament, which is expected to be formally launched within the next 10 days.

The Herald understands:

The nine-a-side tournament will be a regular fixture on Auckland's summer calendar for at least the next five years.

All 16 NRL clubs will compete and will be contractually obliged to field a designated number of star players.

The event will be broadcast live in New Zealand and Australia.

Prizemoney for the winner will be around A$500,000, making it more lucrative for the first-place getters than the NRL premiership.

Duco director David Higgins said the company could not comment on negotiations "other than to say it's incredibly exciting and if it happens it will be New Zealand's biggest event on many levels".

Duco has promoted the concept as having all the carnival elements of the Wellington sevens combined with a more meaningful on-field product.

A prize pool of over $3 million will be up for grabs, making it one of Australasia's richest sporting events.

An Ateed spokesman said the organisation could not comment as "no contract had yet been signed by Ateed".

However, the Herald understands Ateed regards the tournament as a "signature event" for Auckland and a centrepiece of a major events programme that includes the ITM 400 V8 motor race, the Cricket World Cup 2015, the Fifa Under-20 World Cup and the World Masters Games.

The tournament was originally proposed for Auckland Anniversary Weekend. However, that end-of-January date clashed with the Rugby League World Cup because a mandatory six-week stand-down period from December 1 would have given players too little time to prepare for the Auckland tournament.

The tournament is opposed by the likes of prominent Australian league identity Phil Gould, who views it as a distraction from the NRL proper.

However, the NRL has always appeared to be a strong backer of the concept, which is also strongly supported in New Zealand league circles for its potential to promote the game here.

- NZ Herald

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