You’ve heard the hype, marvelled at Brad Fittler’s physiotherapist and burnt your eyeballs on the one-off jerseys.
But now, just when it seemed footy separation anxiety was reaching its breaking point, the Auckland Nines are just about here.
And they are about to attempt the highly improbable – making the pre-season fun.
It has been well noted in the past that rugby league is on occasion a sport that can take itself too seriously, meaning feuds are quick to develop.
This of course has the tendency to rub off onto others in the rugby league world, and whilst the Rabbitohs may be the only club to actually chronicle their gripes in a book, you know that if every other club/administrator/journo/fan followed suit you’d have a collection that would put your door to door Brittanica bloke to shame.
If there is an opportunity to squeeze a bit of frivolity into the NRL then the pre-season, which for fans is little more than footy methadone, is definitely the time to do it.
Nines rugby league has had an up and down, Amos Roberts sort of existence to date, and despite being around since the mid-nineties with current decent sized tournaments in Middlesex and Cabramatta, there’s a good chance many will be watching the version of the game for the first time.
Which is all right, because most players will be playing nines for the first time.
Whilst this might sound like a giant cock-up considering around 90,000 tickets have been sold for an event where no one knows what they’re doing (bar the refs of course), in reality it could be the best thing for the tournament.
Want to see Dave Taylor chip kicking on his thirty metre line? Shaun Johnson channel his inner Tony Iro by running backward for a minute and a half before finding a gap and scoring the match winner?
Could Jamie Soward smile?
All is possible in the Nines, no one has any idea what’s going to happen. Or who is going to win it.
Most of the teams favoured to win the inaugural Skittles rainbow trophy didn’t finish in the top eight last year, meaning clubs like the Eels could soon be clearing a place in the cabinet and the Titans improving on the Gold Coast Gladiators’ 1996 World 7s Bowl victory.
The draw doesn’t give a whole lot of insight into picking a winner either.
• (YELLOW) Warriors, Raiders, Sea Eagles and Cowboys
• (GREEN) Roosters, Eels, Broncos and Bulldogs
• (BLUE) Sharks, Knights, Tigers and Titans
• (RED) Storm, Panthers, Rabbitohs and Dragons.
Some great games just in those pool matches alone, and if there is a dud game you’ve got twenty minutes to nip on Ebay and buy that Brett Rodwell Pog piece and there’s a brand new game of footy.
Who knows, maybe in twenty years’ time Nines will be rugby league’s 20/20 and cheeky young punks will laugh at us stodgy traditionalists listening to teams of thirteen trundle the ball up for five and launch a bomb.
But for now the tournament is just a bit of fun, albeit a couple of million bucks worth of fun, and an event that the rugby league public should feel free to drop their guard and enjoy.
After all it’s only a couple of days…and we’ve got another twenty odd rounds of the season proper to hate each other, don’t we?
The Auckland Nines will be played on the 15th and 16th of February and will be televised live on Fox Sports. Find out all the details here.
Fancy yourself as a rugby league reporter? Dick Smith are giving you and eight mates the chance to win a paid trip to the Auckland Nines. Click here to enter