The disappointment of being stripped of last year's NRL Auckland Nines title is driving the Parramatta Eels to reclaim the tournament trophy at Eden Park this weekend, says forward Tepai Moeroa.
Last season began so positively for Parramatta after they upset the Warriors 22-4 in a lopsided Nines final before it all turned to custard in May, when the NRL handed down severe penalties for salary cap breaches by the club dating back to 2013.
The Eels were docked the 12 NRL competition points they had accumulated over the first nine premiership rounds and ordered to pay an A$1 million fine, while they were also stripped of their Nines title and the A$500,000 tournament prizemoney.
They slumped to a 14th place finish but although the disappointment of last year is now behind them, Moeroa says it is providing plenty of motivation for them to reclaim the Nines trophy and start their new season on a high note.
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"As a team, obviously having that title stripped was a kick to the stomach and the boys will be hoping to get the trophy back so we can one-up them I guess," Moeroa said at the Nines jersey reveal in Sydney.
Despite being denied their place in official Nines history, Moeroa insists the Eels have nothing but fond memories of their last three short-form campaigns in Auckland.
Apart from the opportunity to bond as a squad and enjoy a weekend together away from Australia, Moeroa says Eels coach Brad Arthur is a fan of the tournament and encourages his players to try and develop some new combinations and skills that could be employed during their NRL season.
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"The boys loved it," he said. "It's a great atmosphere and having more space and being able to throw the ball around and have some fun, it's a great way to play rugby league.
"He (Arthur) is (enthusiastic about Nines). He wants us to showcase our skills and try offloading and chance ourselves with the ball and try something new. If we get used to doing it there then we could take it into our 13-a-side game."
Unfortunately for the Eels, another major setback last year was losing their newly installed captain and five-eighth, Kieran Foran, to a season-ending shoulder injury. The Kiwis playmaker was eventually released from his contract on compassionate grounds after just nine appearances in the blue and gold.
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Parramatta's loss was the Warriors gain with the Warriors snaring Foran on a one-year deal for this season - although the NRL are still to approve his playing return.
Should Foran eventually receive the green light to run out at Mt Smart Stadium, Moeroa believes he is capable of helping lead the Warriors to their first finals appearance since 2011.
"He's a competitor," he said of Foran. "He competes with everything until there's nothing left to compete for.
"He's a leader and he'll show the way and lead the boys from the front. That's just the type of person he is.
"He'll control the game and control the forwards. He's that person you want in your side if you're looking to take your side into finals footy."