Messing With A Legacy While Shortchanging Fans At The Auckland 9’s

First it was Brad Fittler looking to turn out for the Sydney Roosters and now Steve Menzies has put his hand up to turn out for the Manly Sea Eagles at the upcoming Auckland 9’s.

The Auckland 9’s is a bit of a gamble for the National Rugby League. It is the first time the league has been willing to think outside the box and try something different for a long time.

Financially the Auckland 9’s will be a success. The problem is that Rugby League is run on sentiment a lot of the time. If the Auckland 9’s fails to capture the imagination of supporters, and feels like a competition that is being run as an afterthought by most clubs, it will not have a very long lifespan at all.

Keep in mind that the 2013 World Cup was loved by all and sundry in the first few weeks, but as the competition dragged on you started to see clubs coming out and questioning why it needed to go for so long. It doesn’t take much for the thinking of clubs to turn negative.

With all that in mind, what would the addition of essentially retired players have on the Auckland 9’s and the perception of the competition among fans, players and the clubs themselves?

Steve Menzies only retired at the end of the 2013 season. Anyone that watched him play in Super League last years knows that he had a tremendous impact for the Catalan Dragons. He was probably their best player. That is Super League though, a competition where the likes of Rangi Chase can look like a world beater.

Brad Fittler on the other hand retired at the end of the 2004 season. He has stayed active, playing in various serious competitions, and while he is just under two years older than Steve Menzies, he is a very different prospect in terms of playing against professional opposition once more.

I don’t think anyone expects the Auckland 9’s to feature the biggest starts in the game to be involved in any great capacity. For clubs going into the 2014 NRL season expecting to be contenders, they would be stupid to risk their stars in this competition. Some lower table clubs might throw their stars out there in an effort to try and get the very nice amount of prize money on offer, but you’d be hard pressed to expect the likes of Thurston, Slater, Inglis and the like playing too many games at all during the course of the Auckland 9’s.

The Auckland 9’s is a competition for younger players and outside backs. it is a chance to mix things up a little and for certain players to try and make their mark on the game in a different competition. You will find that the star performers in the Auckland 9’s might not be the big name blue chippers we all know and love. It is most likely to be youngsters who revel in the opportunity to perform on a bigger stage. That, and anyone Fijian!

The Auckland 9’s will be a fast, frantic competition. It is probably the last place you want to see a retired player in their 40’s looking to get back into top grade competition.

People are really excited about the Auckland 9’s at the moment. They are booking holidays to attend the event. Tickets have all but sold out. It is an event that will be a huge success on many different levels.

The last thing the game needs is to be using the Auckland 9’s as an opportunity to watch former great players struggle badly in a competition that is completely unsuited to them at their advanced age.

The other issue that needs to be considered is the legacy that these players have to consider.

Steve Menzies has just finished a very long career that see’s his name appear in the sports record books. Menzies retired at the age of 39 with his head held high and making a truly great contribution to the club he was playing for. He retired at the right time and in the right way.

Brad Fittler meanwhile retired in a Grand Final loss to the Bulldogs. He was still the most important player at his club at the time. As one of the sports all time greats, Fittler made an emotional Grand Final statement that his family was his life now. While he didn’t walk away a Grand Final winner, it was a fitting end to the career of an absolute legend.

It would be sad to watch Menzies or Fittler struggle in the Auckland 9’s. Both players deserve to be remembers for their great feats on the field…not as potential liabilities in a game suited to speedsters and youngsters.

The Auckland 9’s needs to be an outstanding success in its very first edition. There is no room for negative headlines or any I’ll feeling towards the contests that fans are watching.

The powers that be need to consider that the credibility of the competition needs to be retained in the face of clubs looking to shield their best players from any potential injuries. While supporters will be willing to cop the absence of a star player or two, I don’t think it will sit well with paying customers if they end up watching bits and pieces sides thrown out there with reserve graders, under 20’s players, and 40 year old former players struggling to recapture their glory days.

The Auckland 9’s can be a brilliant promotional tool for Rugby League. I hope that the 2014 tournaments success sees international teams added from 2015 and possibly even an offseason Rugby League 9’s circuit.

All of that is dependant on the 2014 Auckland 9’s started off on the right foot. It needs to be a competition that showcases the brilliance of Rugby League, not the diminished skills of its former champions.

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