Idiots guide to the Downer NRL Auckland Nines at Eden Park - Waitangi Weekend February 6 and 7
1. So what's it all about?
- All 16 NRL clubs in Auckland
- 288+ players in action
- 31 action packed games
- Each club has an 18-man squad
- Nine players per team, nine minute halves
- $2.6 million in prize money
- Three test women's series between New Zealand Kiwi Ferns and Australian Jillaroos
- Up to 70,000 fans expected over two days
2. Is it the real deal?
Yes, as close you'll get for a pre-season competition. NRL clubs are mandated to select at least one of their top five earners and 12 of their top 25-man squad. The rest of the 18-player squads will largely consist of fringe players and up and coming stars looking to prove themselves on the big stage.
3. So who are the teams and players to look out for?
Fears of player burnout mean some clubs approach the tournament more seriously than others.
Both the Warriors and 2014 inaugural tournament winners, the North Queensland Cowboys, have named strong squads, while Melbourne and South Sydney have chosen to rest most of their big name players.
All eyes are once again on the Warriors as the host-club and with Shaun Johnson making his long-awaited playing return after recovering from the broken ankle that ruined his 2015 NRL season.
New marquee signing Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will also bring plenty of fans through the turnstiles for his first appearance in Warriors colours after arriving over the offseason from the Sydney Roosters.
But the Cowboys, even without usual co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott, are out to claim their second title, with a star-studded side containing 13 players that featured in last year's NRL grand final victory.
The Warriors are strong favourites at $3.75 with the Cowboys coming in second at $5.50. Parramatta could be worth a bit of a dabble at $11.00, along with Penrith at $12.
But if you really want to take a long shot then three teams might appeal - Wests Tigers are paying $36, and the Bulldogs are at $41, while the underrated Storm are worth a look at $31.
Betting odds are (NZ TAB):
Sea Eagles $16
Wests Tigers $36
4. Are the rules different from normal NRL matches?
Yes and no. The game is largely the same but there are a few tweaks. The main changes are:
- Nine players a side with five unlimited interchange players
- Two nine-minute halves with a two minute half time period
- Five tackles in a set
- Scrums will only form after a double knock on
- No video referee
- Five points for a try scored in the bonus zone under the posts, with two point drop kick conversion attempts - 25 second shot clock to complete conversions
- A new free play advantage rule will further benefit attacking teams and allow them free license to throw the ball around. Teams that gain possession from an opposition error will be able to attack without risk of losing the ball should they commit an error or lose possession after the normal advantage period has expired.
The rule, which comes into effect following a knock on, forward pass or accidental offside where the non-offending team gains possession, will enable teams to throw caution to the wind on turnover plays.
5. How does the tournament work?
Sixteen is the perfect number of teams for a two day tournament. Four pools of four means three qualifying matches (two on day one and one on day two) with the top two teams from each pool progressing. From there it is on to the quarterfinals, semifinals and final.
This year's pools:
Waiheke: Roosters, Rabbitohs, Eels, Storm
Rangitoto: Knights, Cowboys, Panthers, Tigers
Hunua: Warriors, Bulldogs, Sea Eagles, Broncos
Piha: Dragons, Raiders, Sharks, Titans
6. Isn't it just a massive booze up?
Far from it. Alcohol sales are strongly controlled and the event is heavily policed. The last two tournament's went off without any problems, with the crowd immaculately behaved even when the Warriors bowed out prematurely both years.
7. Should I break out the Batman costume?
Up to you, really. Fancy dress is encouraged but far from mandatory. The crowd scene is part of it but the major entertainment takes place on the field.
8. Are there any tickets left?
A few. Tickets are still available in some categories so if you want to grab a ticket on game day chances are you can.
9. Is it on TV?
Yep. SKY TV are screening every match. The short-form game translates very well to the small screen and the whole tournament makes for a pretty good watch, particularly when the Warriors are in full flight.
Rain is forecast to appear on both days, along with easterly winds. In between in could likely be hot and humid and you had better take the sunblock just in case the sun comes out and sticks around.
Public transport is the easiest way to get to and from the park. Travel on trains and special event buses is included with game tickets, which can be shown on a mobile device.
Special event buses will operate to Eden Park from the City Centre, Northern Busway stations, Manukau, Botany, Pakuranga, Newmarket, Mt Eden, Takapuna, and return.
Bus travel included with your event ticket is only available on special event bus services starts from approximately two hours prior to kick-off until no later than one hour after final whistle
All other bus services will be operating to their scheduled timetables and standard fares will apply.
Train travel included with your event ticket starts from 2 hours prior to kick-off and until the last train on both days. Remember to keep your game ticket for the ride home.
Police will be out and about enforcing local alcohol bans and encouraging bar managers to hang onto their licences by refusing to serve intoxicated patrons.
Police and community wardens will travel on some trains in order to maintain visibility, prevent crime and improve passenger safety.