Are you OK with 9s?


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Were you like me by last Sunday night after the weekend of back to back 9s footy?

I enjoyed being able to get a bit of an early look at every club in 2014 and to check out some new rules. It was pleasing too that we had our version of “T20 footy” to showcase to the New Zealand public and the even larger TV audience.  It also made me feel like we were all starting to rev up for the real stuff in a few weeks’ time.

But really the Auckland 9s delivered few surprises and left me a bit disappointed.

On the positive side there was the standard short form of footy stuff:

  • Plenty of tremendous individual tries were scored – Shaun Johnson (Warriors) an absolute standout.
  • Some outstanding individual tackling and incredible team defence (Cowboys won the whole thing because they were best at this aspect of the game particularly on the goal line).
  • Very sensible management of games by intelligent refereeing and accurate decision making without video replays (except for a couple of refs who went mad with penalties and one or two who just cannot get the 50:50 calls right often enough).

And the usual negatives:

  • Some clubs (see coaches) paid the tournament no real respect via selections or comments. Notables who DID NOT fall into this category were Cowboys, Parramatta, Warriors, Newcastle, Sharks and Broncos. Roosters were in a very tough situation with World Club Challenge near.
  • No-one appeared to be very well-prepared for it – one example being the conversions are worth half a standard try but not one player looked like capable of drop kicking the footy or had practiced for it.
  • Some players were seriously injured – Lachlan Coote (Cowboys winning the unluckiest player award).

So how are you feeling about the 9s overall? Does it really get you? What would need to happen to make it absolutely capture the attention as T20 cricket has done in recent cricket seasons?

I think there are some older generation type people in that sport who still look down their noses at T20 as not as good as the real thing while others around them are counting the dollars rolling in from its broader appeal.  Some head coaches in our sport seem to be taking the same negative path and might need a wake up about how our game can grow with a different approach to this variation of footy from them.

It was great to see Wayne Bennett standing with his players on the sidelines and appearing to be driving the Knights towards a tournament victory. Others were conspicuous by their absence as a sign of their contempt for this intrusion on the all-important preparation for the real thing.

Or would you prefer your club to be focussed totally on the NRL premiership? If that’s a view that your club holds perhaps they should be allowed to not attend the 9s in future. Perhaps the tournament organisers could instead invite Super League teams or Maori and Koori and Murri and PNG and other Polynesian teams. I am confident they all would love a crack it.

Or perhaps the whole thing could be franchised like the IPL or Big Bash where players are contracted differently to other entities to be played in a different format over summer nights?

Whatever we do with it lets have players and teams who are out to win it not make up the numbers.

Or just get rid of it!

Or should we keep it going but forget all the serious, win at all cost approach and just treat it as many did which was like “kick and giggle”?

The promotional value of a weekend like the Auckland 9s provided for Rugby League generally and the NRL specifically seems too good to mess up by involving anyone less than the totally committed.

What’s your take?


This article also appeared on The Roar on Thursday.