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Club legends should be mandatory at Auckland Nines

Brad Fittler's intercept - a career highlight. (Photo: www.photosport.co.nz)
Roar Guru
3rd February, 2016
12

With all 16 NRL teams naming their Auckland Nines squads for the coming weekend, it was worth noting just how excited fans were that Matthew Bowen had been named in the Cowboys’ squad of 18.

A brief look at social media will tell you that despite a number of extremely high-profile players named across the various squads, much like Brad Fittler in 2014’s iteration of the Nines, most adulation was reserved for Cowboys legend Bowen.

It isn’t hard to figure out why. Rugby league fans love an enduring champion and they also seem to be fans that crow on about the ‘good old days’ more than any other sport. We love our champions past and we love seeing them mix it with the current crop and upcoming generation.

The roar Fittler received when he scored an intercept try in the 2014 tournament was a memory etched as vividly in many rugby league fans’ minds as Scott Sattler’s 2003 tackle on Todd Byrne.

Given that the Auckland Nines has been designed as a carnival atmosphere, a celebration of rugby league and ultimately something for the fans, next year’s competition should invoke a mandatory legend per club rule.

I would advocate for two legends – one recently retired the other with five years or more out of the game.

How good was it to see Matt King score last competition’s grand final winning try? Imagine seeing Nathan Blacklock do the same for the Dragons while outpacing Rhys Wesser to the line. That’s more nostalgia than you can poke a WizzFizz at.

The legends Origin match was a huge success when it occurred a number of years ago. Blacklock played in that match but another thing we could potentially do to make the Nines even more exciting and fan-centric would be to reimagine the wildcard entry, a la Tony Trib.

Trib was a fruit and vegetable store owner who put in a bid for a place in the NSW legends team. He managed to score a try off a Fittler grubber and then get into a shoving match with Gorden Tallis. It was absolute gold – there is even a Facebook page dedicated to the one-game legacy of the porky punter.

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I propose that each team sets out the call for members to apply for a wildcard position in their respective team. They would be the lucky 19th squad member.

Each club then selects ten potential members who would be capable of at least holding their own on the field. They each get to spend a few training sessions with their respective teams and as the final squads are named, one lucky punter gets to accompany the squads to Auckland under the provision that they are assured game time in at least one pool game – and of course, in the process, a free trip to the Auckland Nines.

The NRL could cover any insurance claims and fan engagement would skyrocket. You could even unearth a hidden talent.

While these may appear wild suggestions, the NRL, Auckland Nines organisers and the 16 NRL clubs should consider them. The Nines after all is ultimately a light-hearted but competitive way for teams to warm up for the season.

It is designed first and foremost to entertain the fans, what better way to do that than by putting them in the midst of the action?

What do you think Roarers? Would you be keen to slip on a jersey and mix it with the stars of the NRL?

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