When analysing a normal NRL match I use 34 key stats that are a focus for determining the final outcome, but with the Auckland Nines this week all analytics go out the window.
The number one criteria is clearly to sort out which teams actually want to win and which teams want to catch an early plane home to prepare for the real NRL season.
I believe many coaches will advise their players that this is just ‘fun’ and make sure you don’t get injured, but the problem is every player at this elite level is competitive and when they run out on the field they will switch on.
Try telling a player to play ‘dead’ – you can’t! The best way is to simply not play them at all, which is why the great Sonny Bill Williams is not expected to be risked.
The rules are clear that each club must field 12 of their top 25 players so there is no doubt the quality will be high. I also have no doubt that this format, if expanded, can impact TV audiences like cricket’s Big Bash League has.
I do not expect the big four teams to feature in the semis, and with $450k going to the winner I am expecting good performances from the teams who are desperate for cash like the Sharks, the Tigers and the Dragons.
The Raiders started their pre-season very early and I thought that Ricky Stuart would be keen to kick off on a winning note after shockers at his last three clubs, but it appears that he is sending team B with coach B.
Don’t expect the Knights to feature either as Wayne Bennett has a history of booking early flights in tournaments like this, while Storm boss Craig Bellamy has already indicated that his three big guns will not play.
The Rabbitohs and the Sea Eagles are also expected to have their minds on Round 1 of the NRL.
Premiers the Roosters have to play in the World Club Challenge the following week against Wigan, but have excellent depth and will still field an exceptional line-up that will include the NSW Origin halves.
Fans will have the opportunity to see the Roosters’ two big signings in young Jackson Hastings and Sio Siua Taukeiaho, who both have huge futures but will have limited opportunities in the NRL this year.
So, who will win the inaugural nines?
I think the four semi-finalists will be the Warriors, the Eels, Wests Tigers and the Dragons.
The Warriors certainly looked the team to beat but now that champion fullback Sam Tomkins is out, Shaun Johnson and Konrad Hurrell will have to carry the can for the locals.
It really is a lottery, but at the big odds, I am going to speculate on the three teams that tailed off last year – the Eels, Wests Tigers and the Dragons – as they all have good draws and a great chance to make the semis.