How do you win the Auckland Nines?

Even defending champions North Queensland are not so sure ahead of this weekend's official NRL season opener.

It seems an entirely different question is on the clubs' mind as they manage player burnout ahead of yet another busy pre-season - how do you survive the Auckland Nines?

Organisers are quick to remind everyone that the second annual tournament which kicks off on Saturday won't be short of star power thanks to Warriors whiz-kid Shaun Johnson, St George Illawarra's Benji Marshall and Manly duo Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran.


However, the player burnout debate and the inaugural Nines' worrying injury toll has ensured they all won't come out to shine in 2015.

North Queensland co-captain Johnathan Thurston was the latest no show after Cowboys coach Paul Green admitted he was "not worth the risk" as he eased back from shoulder surgery.

No one could blame Green who had a bittersweet 2014 Nines, raising the winner's trophy after prized recruit Lachlan Coote lasted just seven minutes before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

But it looms as a recurring problem, with the few coaches who let their stars contest the Nines this weekend admitting they were nervous after last year's carnage.

Players who walked away from the inaugural tournament spoke of the fun atmosphere thanks to a sold out, 42,000-strong, fancy dress-loving Eden Park faithful each day.

But few coaches could find positives from a star-studded 2014 casualty ward that also included Todd Carney (hamstring), Dave Taylor (ankle), Jarrod Mullen (hamstring) and David Williams (knee).

As a result, arguably the two biggest names in the game - Thurston and Greg Inglis - will be in Auckland, but only to officially launch the NRL season on Thursday night.

"I think all the coaches will be a bit nervous," said Manly coach Geoff Toovey, who reluctantly gave his star halves Cherry-Evans and Foran a Nines nod.


Other big names this year include Adam Reynolds and Dylan Walker (South Sydney) plus Josh Dugan (Dragons).

But Nines organisers are still wondering what might have been as clubs juggle the NRL's busiest pre-season.

The All Stars match is back after a one year hiatus to accommodate the Nines' debut.

Then there's the clubs' respective pre-season trials.

Plus the World Club Challenge in the UK expanded this year to include Brisbane, the Dragons and premiers the Rabbitohs.

And all crammed in before the NRL opener on March 5.

No wonder Bulldogs assistant Jim Dymock best summed up the clubs' Nines gameplan.

"Have some fun, enjoy the atmosphere - and don't get injured," he said.

And Nines success?

Well, even the Cowboys' X-factor Michael Morgan still seems to be scratching his head over that one.

"I think it is how you go on the day," he said.

"Last year we just learned as we went along - it's not like we have trained for it or anything."