Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Thorn selection blunted

Brisbane wanted Brad Thorn to play in the Auckland Nines. Photo / Getty Images
Brisbane wanted Brad Thorn to play in the Auckland Nines. Photo / Getty Images

Former All Black Brad Thorn was lined up to join Brad Fittler among the veterans taking the field at the Auckland Nines next month.

In the wake of Fittler's recent announcement that he will be suiting up for the Roosters in February, the Herald on Sunday understands Thorn was approached by the Broncos to join their side at the tournament.

The 38-year-old Thorn was apparently open to the idea but the possibility was quickly shut down by the Highlanders, who will be in the middle of their pre-season preparations for the 2014 Super Rugby season.

Thorn played for the Broncos in two spells (1994-2000 and 2004-07), winning NRL titles in 1998, 2000 and 2006. He would have been a big drawcard for the event, though his involvement on the field may have been limited.

Despite the presence of Fittler and the inevitable talk of other legends being involved in the new event, Nines organisers remain confident the integrity of the tournament won't be compromised with news of the 'oldies' diluting the sense that the event is supposed to be for top current players.

"All 16 clubs are contractually obliged to bring 12 players from their top 25, as well as [at least] one from their top five," says event promoter David Higgins. "The news around Fittler doesn't vary that reality. It will be an extremely competitive event with many of the top current players - we have even been told by more than half the clubs that they will be bringing their best possible teams, as they are extremely focused on winning the tournament and are unconcerned about contractual minimums."

Fittler's involvement will need to be sanctioned by the NRL but that is a no-brainer. The 42-year-old, who made his first grade debut in 1990 as a schoolboy, will significantly boost ratings and interest from across the Tasman - if only for curiosity value.

Higgins is unconcerned if more clubs follow the Roosters' lead and engage retired stars for the Nines.

"If one or two clubs want to look at wildcard players, we will be open to that idea. There will be no issue around quality current players and if the Nines provides an opportunity for some legends and superstars to be involved, that can't be a bad thing.

"In the Nines, leadership and strategy will be very important - with a new format and a whole lot of different tactics - which is what the Roosters obviously hope Fittler might provide."

Higgins added that if every club showed an interest in bringing players out of retirement for the event, there would need to be formal discussions with the NRL to build that into the competition agreement.

Meanwhile, interest in the inaugural Nines continues to build, with over 35,000 tickets already sold for each day of the February 15-16 event at Eden Park. Higgins expects up to 10,000 visitors to come from outside Auckland for the event, including more than 3000 supporters from Australia.

- Herald on Sunday

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