Auckland Nines: Freddy tells critics to wait until they see him play

By Michael Brown

Brad Fittler's participation in the Auckland Nines has been confirmed. Photo / Getty Images.
Brad Fittler's participation in the Auckland Nines has been confirmed. Photo / Getty Images.

Brad Fittler's participation in the Auckland Nines has been confirmed after clearance by the NRL and the fortysomething brushes off criticim his presence brings down the credibility of the inaugural tournament.

Fittler needed special dispensation from the NRL to play in the tournament to be staged at Eden Park on February 15 and 16. The Roosters had nine players involved in the World Cup and are also due to play Wigan in the World Club Challenge in Sydney a week after the nines and sought clearance from the NRL to register Fittler, who last played in the NRL in 2004.

In his prime, he was one of the game's best players and helped the Roosters to the 2002 title as well as four grand finals in five years. He also played 40 tests and made 31 appearances for NSW in State of Origin.

NRL head of operations Todd Greenberg said they were satisfied Fittler met minimum standards and registered him for the two-day tournament which has A$2.34 million in prizemoney on offer.

Tournament rules mean each club are obliged to send one of their top-five earners as well as 12 of their top 25 among their 16-man squad.

"Brad will no doubt play a very valuable role in mentoring young players in the Roosters squad," Greenberg said at a nines event in Sydney today. "I have no doubt there will be many players excited to play with him and also against him."

It hasn't stopped plenty of detractors saying it drags down the credibility of the tournament to have someone who last played in the NRL nearly 10 years ago. He will be 42 when the nines kick off.

"When you're coming on 42, you don't really care what other people think," Fittler said. "That's one of the handy things. They haven't seen me play. Hopefully they comment after and will reassess what they will think.

"A lot has changed [since I last played]. Training with intensity definitely hurts. There are some things working against me a little bit to the point where the body breaks down but the Roosters have been great.

"Hopefully the players can learn something from a guy who played a couple of eras ago. They are good kids and we have a couple of internationals in there. Let's see what happens."

Playing alongside Fittler is something Roosters centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall never thought he would get the chance to do. Fittler was one of Kenny-Dowall's heroes growing up.

"He's been unreal," he said. "He's still really fit and is a natural-born leader. He's still got the skill so it's an exciting prospect and I'm glad he's on our team.

"I think [the criticism is] something he will be excited about. It's a challenge. He obviously feels he's up to it and the results will show in his performances."

The Warriors have been installed as favourites by some bookies but no one really knows what teams or approach will work given the newness of the event.

The Warriors were the only team not represented in Sydney today and were conspicuous by their absence - nines disciple Willie Mason couldn't resist a pop when he quipped, "good of the Warriors to turn up".

The Auckland-based club are involved in a two-day camp and offered to send a player outside their top 25 but organisers of the Sydney event turned it down.

- APNZ

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