When you think of Rugby League 9’s, you need to think not just of the elite players in the game, but of the players at every level of the sport who are just looking for an opportunity to shine.
A Rugby League 9’s circuit would tap into the huge player base that Rugby League has yet to fully utilize. It would put on show not only some of the games stars, but lower grade players whose games are more suited to Rugby League 9’s as well as great junior players who would relish the chance to take on more senior opponents in a more forgiving form of the game.
When putting together a Rugby League 9’s circuit I think one of the important things that needs to be considered is that it starts of sustainable and builds from a strong base. Three of four strong tournaments can help kick off a Rugby League 9’s circuit and leave fans wanting more. I tend to think administrators are better off heading in that direction as opposed to over reaching and burning out the supporter base.
So, what should the beginning of a Rugby League Nines circuit look like?
The Auckland Nines Are Set In Stone
New Zealand needed a Rugby League event like the Auckland 9’s that they could build around. They needed something they could market to a wider audience outside of Warriors games and the occasional Kiwi’s test match.
While I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Auckland 9’s moved to Wellington at some point, I believe New Zealand should always host one of the Rugby League 9’s main tournaments.
Rugby League Nines To Replace Magic Weekend
Magic Weekend is a sizable event in Super League that see’s all teams play a full round of games at Manchester City’s stadium. Its not a bad event, but it doesn’t really have the magic the name suggests.
If you changed Magic Weekend into a weekend of Rugby League 9’s football that included Super League clubs, lower tier English sides, French Rugby League teams and international teams, I think supporters would respond by turning up in big numbers.
One thing the 2013 World Cup showed was that British fans love to watch something different. They love seeing something other than the same old clubs every weekend.
Rugby League Nines In The United States
If Rugby League administrators really want to crack the United States market then Rugby League 9’s is the way to go. With support from the USARL and its teams a United States round of a Rugby League 9’s circuit could end up being a great experience for players.
I would have this round of the Rugby League Nines circuit during September. Why September? I think it would allow players not involved in the NRL and Super League finals to take part in the tournament, almost as an off season reward.
I would leave the location of the event up to the USARL. I believe they know best. Personally I think playing the round in L.A. would be something a lot of players would be really enthusiastic about.
Rugby League Nines In Melbourne
The ARL is desperate to sell Rugby League content during summer months. There are two big stumbling blocks stopping this from happening.
First, player burnout is a real concern. Rugby League is a demanding sport and players need a decent off season. Supporters would need to realize that the best players might not be involved in an Australian event. The other issue is the weather. During an Australian summer it is simply too hot to be playing Rugby League, even if it is the short form of the game. So how to you get around that?
Play the games indoors!
At Etihad Stadium with the roof closed the weather is not as much of an issue. It would be great for marketing the game in Melbourne and exposing the city to the international side of the game on an annual basis. It would be the perfect time for the Storm to push memberships for the upcoming season.
Building Towards The Future
Like all things in Rugby League, a sound business plan and sustainability is key towards building anything. A Rugby League Nines circuit needs to turn a profit otherwise administrators will want nothing to do with it.
The Auckland 9’s is being promoted and run by a private company that has underwritten the entire competition. This has put in place a number of financial guarantees and means the NRL and its clubs are assured a profit from the event. It also means that if the event is an outstanding, run away success, the private company running the event will be the big winners.
I think case I believe the NRL has done a good deal. The private company running the event has done an outstanding effort and sold out both days of the Auckland 9’s well ahead of time. In the future though I think Rugby League needs to do this work. Learn from the Auckland 9’s and in the future make sure that any chance for big profits comes back into the games own bank account.
If a sound business model can be built we could see Rugby League 9’s really take off. Countries like France, Italy, Fiji, Tonga, PNG and Samoa could all look to built their own Rugby League 9’s competitions that maybe one day could be added to the international circuit.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com