Auckland looks almost certain to lose the Nines. Ateed and Duco have a five-year contract with the NRLthat is due to run to the 2018 event, but the Herald on Sunday understands that the NRL may try to negotiate a deal to allow them to move the event across the Tasman in 2018.

Though Ateed has built a strong relationship with the NRL, and there is a lot of respect for what Duco has achieved in creating the event, economics matter more.

Several Australian cities are keen on securing the Nines, with Perth - with a new 60,000 seat stadium to fill and a State of Origin match in 2019 - among the frontrunners.

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg hinted yesterday that the event could be shifted as early as 2018.

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"We have a strong five-year agreement with [Duco and Ateed] and we are going to talk to them about what we do in the last year of that agreement," said Greenberg.

"We have started those discussions and what we do in 2018 we are pretty open [about]."

According to Greenberg, it's also unlikely that the NRL would sign another five-year hosting deal, instead favouring rotating across different venues in shorter cycles.

"It's a great event that has got legs in a number of different markets," said Greenberg, "so we need to think carefully about what the next cycle looks like. Over the next three or four months we will have some conversations - not just about what 2018 looks like but what the future looks like as well."

"We've created a massively successful event so of course other parties are interested," said Duco CEO Dean Lonergan. "That's how it works. We are keeping an open mind and hopeful that is can stay here. That's the best-case scenario.

"But if it doesn't ... Duco would still like to be involved."

Though the Nines has its critics - and there has been a downward trend in crowd attendances since the explosive sell-out first year - the event has been important for the sport in New Zealand.

It helps to put the game on the map in February, draws all 16 NRL teams to Auckland and has also played an indirect role in the decline of the Wellington Sevens.

The future of the Nines in Auckland may be in doubt, but several top players think it would be a mistake to move the event.

"It has to stay in New Zealand," said Tigers captain and Kiwis international Elijah Taylor. "There is so much league in Australia: they've got State of Origin, grand final, finals series - I don't think they need the Nines.

"It might do well wherever it goes - but I am really hopeful it stays in New Zealand."

Cowboys co-captain Gavin Cooper, who lifted the Nines trophy in 2014, echoed Taylor's sentiments.

"I like the fact that it is over here due to the way that the crowd gets into it," said Cooper. "The way everyone embraces it, dresses up, has fun - the atmosphere that the fans create here is nothing like I have experienced in Australia. That would be a shame for it to leave."

And Ruben Wiki, who rolled back the years to lead the Warriors yesterday, was unequivocal.

"It shouldn't move," said Wiki. "It's vital to grow the game here in New Zealand and it gets great reviews. It needs to stay.

"For kids who want to play league it's massive that they get to see their heroes running around here. It would be silly to take it away."