League: Auckland Nines a leap into unknown

The draw for next year's Auckland Nines was made this morning but no one really knew what to make of it all.

The nines will be a feature of the NRL season for at least the next five years, with the inaugural Auckland event taking place at Eden Park on February 15 and 16.

Auckland mayor Len Brown and Knights second-rower Willie Mason made the draw, with the Warriors the first ball pulled out of the box.

"Hopefully it's a good omen,'' Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah said. "First out and first place.''

No one, however, really knows. It's dangerous to assume regular-season form will equate to success in the nines, which will be a different sort of game.

It could suit teams with fast backs and skilful and mobile forwards but it could depend on who is available and how seriously coaches take the event - the 16 clubs are bound by rules which require them to play 12 of their their top 25 and at least one of their top five.

The A2.25 million prizemoney on offer, which is more than for the NRL premiership, should provide plenty of motivation. The winning club receives A$500,000.

"It's hard to make a lot out of it,'' Mason said. "Nobody has played nines before. I think we can field a very strong side with our backline. We scored the most tries out of any NRL team this year so we can definitely find that line plus we have some really mobile forwards who work hard and we have Wayne Bennett as a coach. But that doesn't matter.

"Just because Wayne is the best 13-man coach in history, doesn't mean he's the best nines coach. It's new to him as well. I would hate to be a coach trying to figure this sort of stuff out.''

Scurrah said it would be up to coach Matt Elliott who would play for the Warriors but he expected them to field a strong side because they needed to as hosts.

For the record, the Warriors were drawn in the same pool as the Raiders, Cowboys and Sea Eagles, who were beaten NRL finalists. The top two from each pool progress to the quarter-finals.

Draw for the NRL Auckland Nines to be played at Eden park, Auckland on February 15-16:

Yellow pool: Warriors, Raiders, Sea Eagles, Cowboys.

Green pool: Roosters, Eels, Broncos, Bulldogs.

Blue pool: Sharks, Knights, Tigers, Titans.

Red pool: Storm, Panthers, Rabbitohs, Dragons.

- APNZ

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