Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Weekend Herald and Herald on Sunday.

Fans descend on Auckland ahead of Nines

The Mt. Smart Joker at the event for the Downer NRL Auckland Nines at Aotea Square. Photo / Nick Reed
The Mt. Smart Joker at the event for the Downer NRL Auckland Nines at Aotea Square. Photo / Nick Reed

Drizzling rain couldn't dampen the spirits of thousands of rugby league supporters who descended on central Auckland today to party with their sporting heroes.

Rugby League took over Aotea Square from 10am to 4pm as almost 300 NRL players met fans before the Downer NRL Auckland Nines kicks off at Eden Park tomorrow.

Punters lapped up the chance to meet and greet some of the game's biggest stars, including Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck from the Warriors.

There were long queues for autograph signing and opportunities to grab selfies with players from the 16 NRL teams including Aussie sides Melbourne Storm, Gold Coast Titans, Brisbane Broncos and the Parramatta Eels.

Warriors fan Jamie O'Brien travelled from Hamilton with his 10-year-old son, Caleb, to soak up the atmosphere.

"Caleb hardly slept a wink last night because he was so excited about meeting the players," Mr O'Brien said.

"It is outstanding that I can bring my kid along to say hello to the likes of Shaun Johnson.

"We will be here for the entire tournament and this is a great way to start the trip."

Duco Events chief executive Martin Snedden believed part of the ongoing success of the NRL Auckland Nines is the excitement in the lead -up to the tournament.

"Auckland really turns it on for the Auckland Nines," Mr Snedden said. "Events like the Fan Day create a buzz in the city, and New Zealand and overseas fans get to meet their rugby league heroes."

Warriors star Tuivasa-Sheck said it was a "buzz" to meet so many supporters face-to-face.

"I've been signing things for people from all over the world and this is perfect for setting the scene for the tournament for the players as well as the fans," he said. "We are very excited about the tournament and the prospect of the Warriors playing together again as a team."

- NZ Herald

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