So we have just had a weekend of rugby league. I’m not sure about all of you but I have been hanging out for some footy for many weeks (or months…) The NRL decided in its infinite wisdom to have a pre-season competition to whet the appetites of fans counting down to round one of the season.
So they asked every NRL club to send a squad to Auckland’s Eden Park in NZ. They are told they will be playing nine players per side. Just to keep the nine theme going they decide on two nine minute halves. Plus perhaps the icing on the cake is that there will be no video referee. All this over two jam packed days. Just what the fans have been asking for; a fast paced game with few interruptions designed to entertain.
So how did it go?
Great footy. We saw some very entertaining footy especially on day one. Some great breaks and quality tries. Lots of young guys showed they were the ones to watch and most players seemed to be having fun. The Sharks were elated after their first win and the Cowboys seemed genuinely delighted to have taken out the title. Freddy’s smile lit up the stadium and there was no laborious waiting after each try for the green (or red) light. We were promised entertainment and for the most part this was delivered.
Great atmosphere. The crowd for the total weekend was just under 90,000 so it was a great turn out. The crowd were loud and exceptionally well behaved. (I won’t make any comparisons to the Rugby Seven’s) They were also vocal and enthusiastic especially when the Warriors were on the field or any time James Tamou appeared…
Freddy’s try. I’m the first to admit I thought it crazy when it was announced that Brad Fitler would be playing. I felt it turned what was supposed to be a serious tournament into a mockery. However I was cheering when Freddy intercepted and scored. He may not have the pace he used to but he got there and showed lots of heart. It was certainly a talking point!
It was televised. Ok so it was only on Foxtel which was a bit of a letdown. But at least some people got a chance to watch it. Trial matches are not televised so often for many people the first chance they have of seeing their team play any sort of footy is round one of the season.
Shaun Johnson. The player of the tournament in my humble opinion. It was a shame the Warriors seemed to lose their way on day two. On day one they were brilliant and Johnson was the stand out.
Day two seemed to lag. After the excitement of day one I think some teams switched off and just wanted to go home. Or else they were simply exhausted. The pace did not seem quite up to day one. I’m not sure what the solution is? Possibly the tournament needs to be extended. Or they may have to change the draw slightly?
Some teams were not really serious were they? Sure it was a great opportunity for some teams to test their young guns. You can also understand that some players were not perhaps suited to the style of game. However it also seemed clear that some teams were saving certain players. While they had to have one of their top players there is talk that next year teams will be expected to have two or even three. It makes sense. We either have a pre-season comp or we don’t and if we do we must expect all teams to field a better than average side.
Freddy’s Try. Yes I know I put that in the good as well. This demonstrates how conflicted I am. While his try was a great moment his lack of fitness did show and his (inevitable?) injury meant he couldn’t play on day two. Plus he is calling for other former greats to play next year. On the surface this sounds kind of fun but do we really want one slow player who will almost certainly not last the weekend playing for each team?
The scoring system. The idea of a five point try and being rewarded for scoring under the posts seemed good. However it appeared that no one really knew what they were doing when it came to scoring.
Raiders and Tigers. As a Tigers fan it pains me to say it but both these teams had better do a lot of work over the next couple of weeks. It is hard to judge I know as the format is so different and some players seemed to grapple with how best to deal with it. It is different to thirteen on thirteen. But defence is defence and the Tigers especially showed that they (still) need to work at that. Plus being kept to zero is pretty pathetic. I do hope I am wrong but it does not bode well.
Injuries. Yes it is footy so players will get injured. I don’t think that is a reason in itself to axe the concept. But certainly there were some terrible injuries which will have quite an impact on some teams. The Cowboys losing Lachlan Coote is probably the worst of all. Plus poor Curtis Sironen. He cannot seem to get a break and once again the Tigers start off the season with players being seriously injured. As if a player suffering a broken foot in a trail wasn’t bad enough? Plus do we really believe all the teams stressing that such and such despite what it looks like will be ready for round one? Wishful thinking anyone?
So there you have it. My good, bad and the ugly of the Nine’s tournament. I think with a few tweaks to the format it should be given another shot next year. No pre-season comp is ever perfect and there are always risks but it was an entertaining way to start the year and show off the greatest game of all.
Oh but just quickly before I go… That trophy? It has to go. I mean seriously? Who wants to win a giant lolly?
So what did you think about the Nines?