David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

League: Warriors prioritise NRL title over nines

Shaun Johnson scores the winning try against the Brisbane Broncos during the 2016 NRL Nines. Photo / Greg Bowker
Shaun Johnson scores the winning try against the Brisbane Broncos during the 2016 NRL Nines. Photo / Greg Bowker

The Warriors are hoping to break their duck at next year's NRL Auckland Nines but are prioritising their NRL campaign ahead of the pre-season tournament.

The Warriors will face off against Parramatta, St George Illawarra and Manly after today being named in the Piha pool group at the announcement of the draw for next year's nines at Eden Park over Waitangi weekend February 4 and 5.

The Warriors have previously been bullish about their nines title hopes but are yet to go all the way, making the semifinals in 2014 and quarter-finals in 2015, before losing the grand final to the Eels earlier this year.

They remain desperate to win the tournament's fourth edition and start their 2017 campaign on the right note, but Warriors captain Ryan Hoffman says they are keeping their eye on the major prize of the NRL premiership.

"We know what our priority is and our priority, I'm not ashamed to say it, is the NRL season," Hoffman said.

"The nines is a great tournament and you want to do really well but the priority is the NRL season.

"And we can use the nines as a great tool to launch the start of our season."

Reigning NRL premiers and 2015 nines grand finalists Cronulla were the first team drawn in the Waiheke pool, together with the Titans, Panthers and Bulldogs.

The Rangitoto pool consists of losing NRL grand finalists Melbourne and semifinalists Brisbane, together with Wests Tigers, who finished one spot outside the top eight, and wooden spooners Newcastle.

But Hoffman expects the Hunua pool to be tightly contested, with two former tournament winners - North Queensland (2014) and South Sydney (2015) - lining up along with the Sydney Roosters and Canberra.

"It's a pretty even spread," he said. "The Hunua pool looks really tough because they're all very talented teams.

"The Raiders, I think, are my pick for the tournament, besides us, of course. Just the way that they played their footy at the back end of last year, they were really dangerous."

The Warriors are again being talked about as one of the top contenders but Hoffman says their experience in making this year's nines final has helped them to accept and deal with the pressure that falls upon them as the tournament's host club.

"I think we handled it last year in recognising that we can't control the expectations that are on us for this tournament.

"People are going to be excited for us as the home team and we should embrace it and really focus on what we can control and that's certainly what we did and that's what led us to get to the final this year."

Nines organisers have brought Saturday's schedule forward an hour with the last game between the Roosters and Rabbitohs starting at 7pm to allow fans attending the Guns N' Roses concert time to make it to Western Springs before the main act takes centre stage at 8.30pm.

Hunua Pool
North Queensland Cowboys
Sydney Roosters
Canberra Raiders
South Sydney Rabbitohs

Piha Pool
St George Illawarra Dragons
Parramatta Eels
Manly Sea Eagles
NZ Warriors

Rangitoto Pool
Newcastle Knights
Wests Tigers
Brisbane Broncos
Melbourne Storm

Waiheke Pool
Cronulla Sharks
Gold Coast Titans
Penrith Panthers
Canterbury Bulldogs


2017 Downer NRL Auckland Nines - Eden Park, Saturday & Sunday February 4 & 5
•All 16 NRL clubs together in Auckland
•Two-day knock-out tournament
•Featuring 288+ star players
•Superstars Johnathan Thurston and Shaun Johnson the first to confirm they will play
•31 action packed games
•More speed! More tries! More fun!
•9 players per team, 9 minute halves
•NZ $2.6 million dollars + in prize money
•Over 80,000 fans expected over 2 days

- NZ Herald

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