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Would you watch rugby league all year round?

Auckland Nines players in 2016. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Expert
2nd January, 2018
59
1925 Reads

Serious question: if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, would you watch a variation of rugby league this time of year?

We know you would if you live in England. You did it for 100 years. Scores from a number of festive friendlies will be coming through as you read this.

But in Australia and New Zealand would you support a nines circuit? And, specifically, what sort of circuit?

Nines is seen as the great potential area of expansion for our sport. I’ve written about it countless times before – how it resembles rugby league but allows teams without established stars to compete with full-time pros.

In developing countries its biggest advantage is you don’t need to be able to rustle up 13 or 17 players.

But things are now finally moving. We have an international nines likely to be played in an Australian city at the start of the 2019 Lions tour of the Pacific. Rugby league nines will hold its second Commonwealth Championship to tie in with a Commonwealth Games next year at Redcliffe.

So the question is how to manage the expansion of nines. What should the objectives be? Should the focus be on clubs or provinces or countries? Should the sport start small and build up or will we require significant investment from the get-go with all the bells and whistles?

I’ll declare an interest – though definitely not a financial one. For the last six months I’ve been networking with people who are interested in developing nines.

(AAP Image/Paul Miller)

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One of these is a fellow called Graham ‘Jumbo’ Oliphant, who runs the London Nines and has designs on an international circuit. He’s quit his job to focus on his dreams. Others are interested in financing, broadcasting and sponsoring whatever pops up.

The fact is that there are already nines tournaments played roughly every three weeks – maybe two – around the world. Rotterdam, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Queenstown – often much nicer places than our club games are played!

But they have no link. They don’t share sponsors or even information. They may not even be played under the same rules. That just seems daft.

If these tournaments were to be broadcast and get a decent social media push behind them, would you watch without the product itself being enhanced? Would you take an interest in Dutch and Serbian and New South Wales Southern Highlands players having a run in the NRL offseason?

Or would you only take an interest if it’s the big names you know? Or if it’s young up-and-comers and blokes who’ve just retired? Do you want clubs or national teams or maybe provinces?

Would you care if every tournament involves completely different teams? Or would you need the same teams to back up from one tournament to another?

How big a difference would it make to you if the teams were attached to NRL clubs? Would you go down to your local stadium for a summer beer and a jolly but not bother watching on TV or online?

In short, what would make a nines circuit work for you, and what would ensure you’d take zero interest?

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This stuff is happening, people. It’s just a matter of figuring out how it’s going to happen, how it should happen.

The more people who have their say on all this, the better the product should end up being.