NRL: Scandal-beating plan for Nines

By Dana Johannsen

Organisers take action up front to prevent mix of 250 players, fans and alcohol turning February event bad

Teams were warned about bad behaviour before SBW's Roosters team won the Grand Final last month. Photo / Getty Images
Teams were warned about bad behaviour before SBW's Roosters team won the Grand Final last month. Photo / Getty Images

Plans are being made to try to prevent off-field scandals among 250 top rugby league players when they gather in Auckland for next February's Nines tournament.

The NRL's integrity unit has identified problem areas in Auckland that it will warn players to avoid.

"There's certain hotspots in Auckland that have more issues than others and those areas need to be avoided. You take a nightclub or a pub that's generally got a lot of trouble and you add a few celebrities into that and it's something that might not wash," said the NRL's Jim Doyle.

"So we may get players to avoid those areas, or engage with (the establishments) to get more security at that point in time."

The integrity unit has devised a plan in conjunction with Auckland Council's Ateed, event organisers and police to keep the players "safe and responsible" over the weekend.

The two-day tournament at Eden Park in mid-February will bring 256 NRL players from 16 clubs to Auckland for the inaugural event, which is offering $2.5 million in prize money.

Never before have so many league stars been scheduled to be together in one place, leading to concerns the post-tournament celebrations could get out of hand.

Mr Doyle, who heads the integrity unit, said that to prevent embarrassment for the competition and organisers, a risk mitigation plan was being developed.

"We're conscious there's going to be around (250) players in the same place at one time, and that's not something that normally happens.

"If the boys want to celebrate afterwards we're saying to the clubs do it in a confined space, but at the same time if the players do want to go out we need to look at the best ways for us to manage that."

This year, Mr Doyle put the NRL clubs on notice before the traditional Mad Monday celebrations, reminding players of their obligations under the code of conduct after a string of scandals in recent seasons.

Last year the game took a battering after several Bulldogs players yelled sexist and abusive remarks at a female TV reporter. Before that it was Joel Monaghan's lewd act with a Raiders' teammate's dog, and in 2011 Robert Lui was charged with assaulting his pregnant girlfriend.

Mr Doyle said it wasn't just player behaviour his team was concerned about, but the reaction of the public and fans when alcohol was thrown in the mix. This month's scuffle involving Kangaroos star Billy Slater outside a Manchester nightclub showed how quickly situations could escalate.

They would also recommend teams employed their own private security if players went out.

Event organisers are also dedicating a lot of time to their alcohol and crowd-management policies in an effort to avoid the tournament getting a similar reputation to that of the Wellington Sevens, which often generates more headlines for the action in the stands and shenanigans in the city's night spots afterwards than it does for the sport.

David Higgins of Duco Events, the company contracted to run the event, said the organisers were leaving nothing to chance.

"The first responsibility is on us to make sure people aren't getting overly intoxicated at our event and we take that seriously, so that's a commitment from us; our policies around liquor will be conservative" said Mr Higgins.

"If you benchmark us against other full-day events, we're going to be a bit tighter around the quantities you can buy at the bar and we won't be serving anything over 4 per cent alcohol.

"It's in our interest to have a safe and happy event with no problems, because the last thing we want is the event only lasting a year or two."

- NZ Herald

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