NOW that the action-packed Auckland Nines has come to an end, we reflect back on the nine things we learnt from the tournament.
THE TOURNAMENT BLOODY ROCKED
Many sceptics questioned just how successful this tournament would be but after two days of incredible action the critics were silenced. We witnessed a mixture of youth and experience in what was a fast paced concept. Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt made some of the most incredible put-downs for tries in the corner, while Shaun Johnson razzle-dazzled the defence with his elusive step and speed. During the finals we saw some incredible defensive efforts from North Queensland to keep the Warriors scoreless while in regular pool matches some try saving tackles were just as impressive as the tries. An honourable mention also has to go to the crowd. The costumes were funny but the signs they made were hilarious.
COACHES ARE LEFT COUNTING INJURIES
The tournament was awesome for everyone involved… except the coaches who now have players missing from the start of the season proper. Luke Keary (suspected pectoral), David Williams (possible ACL), George Jennings (arm/wrist), Lachlan Coote (ACL - six months), Curtis Sironen (fractured foot - six weeks), Mitchell Moses (shoulder), Michael Chee-Kam (elbow - six weeks), Jarrod Mullen (hamstring), David Taylor (ankle), David Stagg (knee - 2-6 weeks), Todd Carney (hamstring), Ben Barba (ankle), Kyle Feldt (hamstring), Isaac Lui (knee), Dylan Farrell (concussion) and Mitchell Pearce (knee) conclude a long list of injuries from the weekend. Despite winning the trophy and the hefty prize money, Cowboys coach Paul Green is now without a fullback. Good thing Zac Santo showed in the Nines he is ready to make the jump to the big time.
FREDDIE AND BEAVER ADDED TO THE CARNIVAL ATMOSPHERE
The nostalgia act was a hit. Many questioned whether Brad Fittler still had it but the truth is he never lost it. His intercept for an 80 metre try was a highlight of the entire weekend. Steve Menzie getting to run out in the maroon and white one final time was another. It didn’t matter that he didn’t cross for a try. Fans were on the edge of their seats every time Fittler or Menzies came close to the ball. Having seen the two ‘old boys’ on show, a collection of past stars have already expressed their desire to be involve next year. Former internationals Matt Cooper and Brett Kimmorley have already volunteered while English Super League clubs have also expressed interest in joining the fun. Perhaps Darren Lockyer will skipper a legends team? Watch this space!
THURSTON, INGLIS AND CO WOULD TAKE IT TO ANOTHER LEVEL
As good as the talent on display was it would go to another level with the likes of Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis, Billy Slater and Jarryd Hayne. From early reports it looks as if next year’s competition will be even stronger with South Sydney stars Issac Luke and Greg Inglis telling coach Michael Maguire they want to take part in the weekend. Thurston is also expected to join the action. You can’t help but picture his lethal show-and-go or precision kicking wreaking havoc. The Nines is a competition built to showcase a player’s raw talents, so you can only imagine the impact and freakish sights on show if the rep stars were unleashed.
MOST OF OUR PLAYERS NEED TO PRACTICE THEIR DROP KICKS
With the kicking tee only used to start the halves, the drop kick was on show and for the most part it wasn’t pretty. Aside from the likes of Jarrod Mullen and Daniel Holdsworth who were on song with the boot, the vast majority produced some clangers. Brisbane young gun Kodi Nikorima took the award for worst attempt. The playmaker attempted a drop goal conversion from the sideline but hooked it so much it hit an Eels player being attended to on the 20 metre line. Many missed drop goals from right in front while some kicks to restart play failed to get off the ground or even travel the required 10 meters.
LACK OF SCRUMS IS GREAT FOR THE GAME
How good was it without scrums? It’s no secret that a scrum is not what it used to be. They are no longer seriously contested and we seldom see a side win the scrum when they don’t have the feed. While scrums were not completely eliminated from the Nines, the majority of times play was restarted with a play-the-ball which sped up the game. With players under fatigue could present a defensive lapse which makes for exciting football. It will also prevent teams from wasting time at the crucial stages when the game is in the balance. Thoughts? Over to you Dave Smith.
COWBOYS HAVE LIFTED SILVERWARE, MAYBE NOT FOR THE LAST TIME THIS YEAR
Paul Green’s first-grade coaching career got off to a flying start. Having lost Lachlan Coote to injury and without Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott, the Cowboys won the inaugural tournament. It may just be a sign of things to come. For the past few seasons the Cowboys have been tipped to be serious finals contenders but failed to live up to the hype which led to Neil Henry’s sacking as coach. Enter Green and a fresh vibe at the club. While Coote will be sideline for six months with a knee injury, Holden Cup graduate Zac Santo is a capable replacement at the back. At the end of last season it looked like the Cowboys had their halves situation sorted with Ray Thompson moving to hooker while Michael Morgan and Robert Lui will compete to partner Thurston in the halves. Could 2014 be year of the Cowboy?
JOHNSON AND TOMKINS READY TO STRIKE
Shaun Johnson is the most naturally gifted player in the tournament and he and Sam Tomkins will strike fear through the NRL this season. Johnson was the most lethal player in the competition. His slick passing, dummying, explosive off-the-mark runs and flashy side steps were not only a wonder to watch but a nightmare to defend against. Tomkins also showed just how elusive his running game is and partnered well with the Kiwi halfback. This combination will continue to mature over the course of the season and when it does the Warriors will prove incredibly difficult to stop.
THERE IS SOME SERIOUS YOUNG TALENT IN THE GAME
If the lack of ‘big name’ stars featuring in the Nines has provided anything – it was the chance for some of the rising talent to steal the show. James Tedesco appears to have banished his mental demons following a horrific knee injury and is playing with confidence. With pace to burn, Tedesco set the field a-light as did Parramatta’s Semi Radradra. Newcastle’s Jake Mamo and North Queensland’s Kyle Feldt were electric for their sides on the edges Cowboy centre Curtis Rona tore strips off the defence. Melbourne forward Mitch Garbutt showed he has some toe for a big man with an impressive 50 metre run while Tigers forward James Gavet looks like an exciting prospect. Sharks hooker Michael Lichaa showed glimpses of why the Bulldogs are chasing him to join the kennel while Jackson Hastings had some handy touches for the Roosters as did young Bulldogs playmaker Moses Mbye.