16th January 2017, 18:19 | nines
BY STEVE MASCORD
It must be January – we are debating the pros and cons of Nines Rugby League again.
At one point, we were told, Super League teams were to be invited to the NRL Nines in Auckland, which are being held at Eden Park on February 4 and 5. That isn’t happening – it’s the 16 Australasian teams only and the timing was evidently too hard for northern hemisphere sides – but things don’t have to change in order for them to still cause a kerfuffle.
Penrith Panthers general manager of football, Phil Gould, has once again hit out at the concept, calling it a “money making venture for outside promoters who use our NRL-contracted players without compensation for injuries”.
Interestingly, while the NRL Nines, financed by Duco Events and the local government in Auckland, makes millions of dollars every year and earns each club a share of A$3.7 million in prize money, the Rugby League International Federation found little interest in staging an equivalent competition when it shopped the idea around.
A Nines circuit, like Rugby Union’s Sevens, is seen by many as an ideal property for the RLIF but it has decided on a Federation Cup – 13-a-side – instead.
The reason, according to RLIF chief executive David Collier is that the “RLIF tested the market re a Nines event but there was limited response.
“The Tier One nations would like a Nines event to be trialed in 2019 and, assuming the board agree, we shall tender that option.”
The reason Nines is such a hit at club level and a much harder sell at international level is self-evident – in the established Rugby League countries, the clubs are much better known and those clubs are also reluctant to release players to national teams, as England have just found out regarding the aborted pre-season training camp. No matter how much we would like to pretend otherwise, we are a club-based sport.
Nines can help us become an international-based sport, however. The dichotomy here is that Nines benefits Rugby League much more when we involve teams other than the NRL and Super League pros.
The two great benefits of truncated versions of any sport are: one, sides which are at a lower level than their opponents are more able to compete and two, it’s easier to raise a team in a “frontier” areas when fewer players are required. Nines tournaments in places like South America and eastern Europe are not novelty competitions - many teams can't actually raise 13 players.
Having our fulltime pros from Rugby League crazy areas play Nines is like giving a voucher for a discount coffee to a billionaire– it’s kind of wasted on them.
What we have to do is to find a way to parry the success of the NRL Nines into the establishment of a World Nines circuit that can benefit the RLIF and extend the careers of many Super League and NRL stars while also giving the sort of players who just trialed for the Toronto Wolfpack a stage on which to show their wares.
The opportunity to do so should come up in 2018/19. Auckland’s five-year contract with the NRL expires and during the current off-season, its chairman John Grant has said there are other cities around the world bidding for the tournament.
Let’s remember that like Rugby Union Sevens, Rugby League Nines is as much a social event as a sporting occasion. People go there to have fun and outside a handful of cities, the audiences won’t know or care which players are taking part and which aren’t
The NRL and RLIF need to work hand in hand to use the bidding process of the former’s property to create new properties for the latter.
Although this degree of co-ordination often seems beyond us, we should be able to offer an international Nines event to everyone who misses out on the NRL tournament in 2019 and beyond, then gradually increase the size of the circuit each year.