Michael Burgess

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

NRL: Nines staying put

Popular tournament will return to Eden Park on January 31 after copromise reached with cricket bosses

Gavin Cooper and the Cowboys won the inaugural nines. Photo / Getty Images
Gavin Cooper and the Cowboys won the inaugural nines. Photo / Getty Images

The NRL Nines will go ahead in Auckland next year, and is set to be staged at Eden Park after all.

A clash of dates with the 2015 Cricket World Cup had put the event in doubt, with talk it would have to be moved to Sydney or another Australian location.

But the Herald on Sunday understands a compromise arrangement has been reached after negotiations between event organisers and the ICC and it will go ahead across the weekend of January 31-February 1.

The nines had been in jeopardy, due to a contractual arrangement with Cricket World Cup organisers that locked other events out of Auckland's biggest stadium for the 30 days leading up to Eden Park's first World Cup match on February 28.

The clause meant no other events could be held at the stadium from January 27. However, the 2015 Auckland Nines had been scheduled to start on January 30, with the NRL reluctant to move the event as it would cut further into an already compressed off-season.

Last year's inaugural nines tournament, which delivered sell-out crowds across both days, was held in mid-February.

Aside from concerns about the impact on the outfield of the league tournament, there are also practical reasons for the lock-down period before the cricket event.

Time is needed to get signage and sponsorships arrangements in place, reconfigure grandstands and set up the multitude of hosting areas to be used during the six-week tournament.

However, Wellington Stadium has only a 12-day exclusion period to accommodate the Wellington Sevens and a compromise agreement has been reached by the relevant stakeholders in Auckland.

It means the nines will start on January 31, kicking off a packed pre-season that also sees the return of the NRL All Stars game and the World Club Challenge returning to England. It has been proposed the 2015 nines tournament could be held across three days, which would allow the players and playing surface more recovery time.

This year's tournament was a financial bonanza, delivering an estimated $9.35 million to the local economy, and it would have been a big blow for Auckland if the event was moved across the Tasman.

Next year's event promises to be even bigger and there's already talk of more marquee names being involved. Attracting many representative players to the inaugural edition was difficult, as most were involved in a seven-week World Cup campaign at the end of 2013.

It's also possible each club will be allowed one designated legend as part of their squad next year, after the popular participation of Brad Fittler and Steve Menzies this year.

Recently retired players such as Nathan Hindmarsh (Eels), Scott Prince (Cowboys), Darren Lockyer (Broncos) and Matt Cooper (Dragons) are some of the big names to have already been mentioned.

- Herald on Sunday

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