The first half of the 2017 Auckland Nines is done dusted, with some scintillating tries scored. A few teams managed to surprise, while a few really floundered in what was an exciting return to rugby league. Here’s what we learnt:
Rookies stand tall
As they do every year, the youngsters at the tournament use the Nines to announce themselves to the rugby league world. Gideon Gela-Mosby has impressed this year again, scoring a hat-trick in his first match. Meanwhile, Bulldogs recruit Francis Tualau pressed his NRL claims in a losing side, scoring a powerful try in his first match and making a long break to set up a four-pointer in his second. Dragon’s duo Matt Dufty and Jai Field stood tall as the Wollongong juniors looking to secure their maiden NRL berths.
Superstars fit the billing
Shaun Johnson may have missed the opening two games with a groin injury, but he wasn’t the only star at the Nines. Brisbane and North Queensland are chock-a-block with internationals, with Jonathan Thurston starring in his maiden campaign in the nine-a-side campaign. Jarryd Hayne had a solid hitout for the Gold Coast, scoring his first rugby league try since 2014 as well as putting up a perfectly weighted chip for Tyrone Roberts in the opener. Corey Norman also continued on from last year’s MVP form with a strong showing.
It’s a three horse race… or is it?
Unsurprisingly, the Cowboys, Brisbane and Parramatta were the standouts of day one, all going through undefeated. The usual suspects impressed, but can other sides stop them? The Titans sure have an aura around them with the likes of Hayne, McQueen and Pulu powering through, while Penrith are dark horses with a stack of young talent to aid James Tamou and Nathan Cleary in their quest for the trophy.
McQueen tailor made for Nines
Starting his career as a lanky winger, transitioning into the hard-working back-rower he is today. Despite making a move to the forwards a few years ago, the former Rabbitoh hasn’t lost any of his trademark pace, scoring a 70 metre try in the Titans second game. It would prove to be McQueen’s tenth try across his Nines career, making him one of the tournament’s all-time leading try-scorers.
Resting Reynolds rears real issues
South Sydney and Canterbury both rested their own ‘Reynolds’, and they’re definitely paying for it. Adam Reynolds was rested for the entire tournament after twinging a hamstring at training, while Josh Reynolds wasn’t selected for either of the Bulldogs opening two matches. The Rabbitohs struggled on day one without the organisation and pin-point kicking of the Blue’s halfback, while the Bulldogs really lacked any sort of spark without their energetic five-eighth.
New recruits fire and flounder
James Tamou headlined a list of players to debut for their new clubs, with some impressive performances scattered throughout. James Tamou managed two long-range tries in his only match of the day, one of which coming from fifty metres out. Manaia Cherrington also managed to nab a double for new club Cronulla as he battles to lock down the hooking role for the premiers. While there were some starring performances for the new buys, some didn’t fare as well as Benji Marshall came up with a few errors in his maiden match while Cameron McInnes failed to offer any direction for St George Illawarra.
‘Let’s Gone Warriors’ gone
Crowd favourites the New Zealand Warriors have been eliminated after a single day, with the club failing to gain any real attacking prowess without star half Shaun Johnson. Johnson missed the day with a groin injury, while novelty inclusion Ruben Wiki failed to have any impact. Fans will be disappointed after the Warriors made the 2016 final, especially after they ended day one with an egg on the scoreboard.
Use the free plays!
For a tournament billed as ‘unpredictable’, the lack of the use of free plays is frustrating. A rule only introduced last year, a free play occurs when the opposition knock on the football, meaning the defending team can pick up the ball and essentially do anything consequence free. If they turn it over on the free play then they simply get the ball back from here the opposition knocked on. So use it! Whether it’s a crazy offload, a chip and chase, anything, there’s nothing to lose.
Defence the best form of attack
Across the past three years, the tournament winners haven’t just been good attackers, with defence proving to be an essential part of the game. The Cowboys were the worst of the three tournament winners defensively, conceding 10.66 points per game, while South Sydney were the best with 7.66 per match. In the first day, three teams are currently beating Souths, the Gold Coast leaking 7 points a game, Brisbane only 6 points, and amazingly, Parramatta is letting less than a converted try per game with 5.5 points.
Day Two is going to be BIG
Eleven teams are still mathematical chances of making the finals, which means we’ll witness an absolute dog fight come tomorrow morning. Gideon Gela-Mosby and Jordan Kahu sit equal at the top of the try-scoring race with five apiece. After 101 tries were scored on the first day, there is a chance we could see the record for most tries in a Nines tournament broken after last year saw 179 tries scored. To add to all of that, the Jillaroos Nines team are up in the three-game series, with one win tomorrow set to seal their victory. It’s going to be a big day, so make sure you tune in at 8:35am to see the first game live on Fox Sports 2.