Daniel Nichols – 9’s At Risk Of Descending Into A Farce

The Auckland 9’s tournament’s credibility has taken a hit with the announcement that Rooster’s legend Brad Fittler is set to come out of retirement to play in the 2 day event.

No doubt tournament organisers will be high fiving from the caviar rooms in their private jets as the announcement has rocketed the tournament into the news reports, however at what cost?

The fact a 42 year old who hasn’t played the game since 2004 thinks he can survive the 2 day event says something about the quality of the players he expects to be present in February.

I have seen Fittler around the traps a fair bit lately and he looks in great shape, and he is one of the best players I have ever seen play the game, but the fact is, he’s 42 years old.

There’s no doubt his inclusion will bring extra media attention to the event as a whole and the Roosters in particular as all eyes will be on Fittler and his efforts, but his inclusion shows just how seriously the Roosters are taking this.

They’re the current NRL Minor Premiers and Champions, this tournament is a distraction for the club and it shows. Their decision will likely open the door for many legends to the return for the 2 day tournament, robbing younger players of the opportunity to play. I have no doubt you’ll see an offer made to Darren Lockyer and co. in the next few weeks to make an appearance.

This event has it all, excitement, hype and intrigue, but the one thing it is at risk of losing is it’s credibility. Sure it’ll be fun to see Brad Fittler running round, but a 42 year old man who hasn’t played the game in almost 10 years is nothing but a novelty.

James Maloney may miss the tournament to accommodate Fittler’s inclusion robbing crowds of a genuine drawcard. Under the event’s rules, each team must provide 12 of their top 25 paid players, including 1 of their top 5 played. The Roosters will not provide Sonny Bill Williams, that is a near certainty, they may however claim that Fittler qualifies as one of their top 12.

Tournament organisers will be hoping top quality players turn up, or it may turn into a reserves quality tournament as the 7s did towards the end of its run. Huge prize money is up for grabs, it would be a shame for novelty players, or even celebrities taking positions of top NRL players, who most will be hoping to see.

The Sharks have already said they will send a near full strength side as they chase the prize money on offer, and reports indicate the Warriors will be playing their best available side if possible, as they look to win their home tournament.

Brad Fittler’s inclusion will not destroy the quality of the event, hell, it’ll be fun to see him go round once again, but it has opened the door to many more retired players to take up spots that should go to emerging NRL talent, if not filled by the big name stars.

The inaugural 9s tournament’s success will go along way to deciding it’s future, and I for one do not want to see the quality of the event deteriorate into the sort of farce the 7s dished up in its last years.

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