After a two-year absence, the Penrith Panthers and the Sydney Roosters kicked off the fifth instalment of the NRL Nines.
Perth’s HBF Park played host to all 16 teams for the pre-season tournament. The competition was compelling and contentious, exhibiting some magical moments and exciting games. So let’s take a look at what impacts both positive and negative the Nines produced.
North Queensland Cowboys
Townsville will be welcoming the Nines trophy with opens hands as the previous two seasons have been dismal in the regular season.
Talisman Jason Taumalolo looks fitter and stronger than ever, if that’s humanly possible. Scott Drinkwater lit up the competition with exhilarating performances, earning him the player of the tournament award. The rotation between Valentine Holmes, Michael Morgan and Jake Clifford will be a mouth-watering prospect for North Queenslanders.
Ask any league fanatic their thoughts on the Bunker and they’ll complain about long delays to make the correct call, a slower-paced game and decisions that aren’t always 100 per cent correct.
The absence of the Bunker during the Nines breathed fresh air into the tournament. It demonstrated a fast-paced game with an element of excitement along with a better broadcasting spectacle. Despite a controversial call against the Penrith Panthers, the no-Bunker policy was welcomed by most supporters.
Holbrook’s confidence boost
Clouds of uncertainty are forever surrounding the dire club that is the Gold Coast Titans. A somewhat surprising overall outing at the Nines, reaching the semi-finals, was a light at the end of a dark tunnel for the Titans.
They beat last season’s runners-up 27-10 while overcoming a strong Manly outfit 24-0. Newcomer Justin Holbrook will certainly carry overconfidence from the pre-season come the regular season.
Attendance and WA expansion
Attendance figures – perhaps the main talking point of the Nines – were underwhelming, with just 10,128 to watch Day 1, while Day 2 attracted 14,739. Proposed expansion/relocation has the WA capital the front and centre of attention. Given these attendance figures while all 16 teams were on display, the appetite for a Perth rugby league team hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, given the circumstances.
In fairness, temperatures reached the high 30s on Day 1. But all in all, there can’t be much of an excuse to stay away from the turnstiles.
With the Nines being played just a month out from Round 1, it’s become clear some teams aren’t hesitant to play reserve-graders. A prime example of this is the Sydney Roosters, fielding just one player (Sam Verrills) from their starting grand final roster.
In addition, big-name retirees making comebacks doesn’t add the ingredient of a serious competition that fans should look forward to. Therefore some clubs prioritise the Nines in their bottom draw.
Over the course of the weekend’s action, the Dragons were dealt a serious triple blow to Matt Dufty, Cameron McInnes and Korbin Sims. The injury toll dealt over the tournament could prove more than costly for some clubs’ fortunes.
Souths’ Ethan Lowe suffered an MCL tear. Meanwhile, Josh McGuire will under go meniscus surgery. All regular first-graders, debates will surely begin to emerge if fielding players of a high calibre will be even worth it in the long run.