THE Australasian sporting landscape changed forever today as the National Rugby League announced a five-year deal for Auckland to host the NRL Auckland Nines through to 2018.
The two-day rugby league extravaganza will be contested by the NRL’s 16 teams as they compete for the inaugural title and a share of a record New Zealand and Australasian sport’s purse of A$2.25 million.
The NRL Auckland Nines – which will be held at the iconic Eden Park on February 15 and 16 could attract up to 96,000 fans.
The tournament has come about thanks to a partnership between the NRL, and New Zealand’s foremost event and development and promotion company Duco Events, and major sponsor ATEED (Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development).
ATEED is the host city sponsor and will invest NZ$9 million over five years.
“This event is unique,” said NRL Auckland Nines Managing Director, Duco Events’ David Higgins.
“Unlike other circuit events this is the best-of-the-best coming together for two days of high intensity football for the biggest purse ever offered in any sport and at any time in New Zealand.”
NRL CEO Dave Smith is excited about the tournament and the impact it could have for rugby league in New Zealand.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to grow our game in New Zealand and for our clubs and players to share in a significant new investment in rugby league,” he said.
“It is an exciting format that will attract new fans and television audiences and it provides a stage for rising stars to emerge and showcase their skills alongside the biggest names in our game.”
While a carnival atmosphere will take over Eden Park, the hallowed turf will not be playing host to exhibition rugby league.
“Make no mistake, the 16 teams will be there to win,” NRL Head of Football, Todd Greenberg said.
“Clubs have already started making their plans for camps and trials in New Zealand to make sure they have the best possible build-up to the Nines. It’s a unique style of play and it will really showcase the skills of our players.
“There is certainly a lucrative prize on offer for the winner and once the teams take the field everyone will see just how determined they will be to perform well and win the inaugural Nines crown.”
The NRL Auckland Nines received some heavyweight support in the immediate lead up to today’s launch from State of Origin coaches Mal Meninga and Laurie Daley and arguably the game’s greatest coach, Newcastle Knights mentor Wayne Bennett.
Meninga said the event “will be our advertisement for rugby league around the world” while Daley forecast a “wonderful spectacle” from “some of the best players in the NRL.”
Bennett said the NRL Auckland Nines “is going to be a great celebration of rugby league and the Knights can’t wait to be a part of that.”
Those endorsements add significant weight to Mr Higgins move today to dispel chatter in some media which suggested players who front at the Rugby League World Cup won’t be required to play in Auckland.
“Let’s be clear,” he said. “There is no exemption for World Cup players. This tournament is well clear of the World Cup and any break that players are given will be over by the time of this event. Indeed, we have heard from a number of players who will almost certainly be at the World Cup who have told us that they definitely want to be a part of the first NRL Auckland Nines.”
Indeed, a number of NRL stars including Sam Thaiday, Willie Mason, Anthony Watmough, Greg Bird, Robbie Farah, Paul Gallen and Todd Carney are all on record as saying they want to play in the NRL Auckland Nines.
Carney and Gallen said they are “looking forward to playing” while Farah was emphatic about his involvement declaring; “I’m coming and us Tigers want to win it.”
Adding to the quality of the teams at the tournament is an agreement by each of the NRL’s 16 clubs which guarantees at least one top-five player from each club’s salary cap will play in Auckland alongside at least 12 of each club’s top-25 salary-capped players.
“When you extrapolate that figure across 16 teams you begin to appreciate the level of players who will be playing in the NRL Auckland Nines,” said Mr Higgins.
“Certainly the contractual minimum in terms of player quality is vastly superior to other similar events in other sports. And that’s a minimum. We are pleased to say that many clubs – including the likes of the Wests Tigers, Gold Coast Titians and the New Zealand Warriors - have indicated they will go further than that in an effort to try and win the tournament.”
The format agreed upon will see teams split into four groups of four. The top two teams from each group will advance to the next stage of the tournament. Games will be played over two nine-minute halves.
Today’s official announcement of the NRL Auckland Nines in Auckland and Sydney marks the culmination of two years of planning by Mr Higgins and fellow Duco Events’ director – former Kiwis star Dean Lonergan.
“From a Duco Events perspective, Dean Lonergan and I have put in a couple of years hard work to get to this point in conjunction with the NRL. Now that it’s official, it is a privilege to be staging New Zealand’s biggest summer event – an event which will be New Zealand’s biggest annual summer event in the country’s history. It’s a privilege to work with the NRL, their 16 brands and all of their players, stars and coaching staff.
“We are taking the world’s greatest rugby league competition and condensing it into a fast-paced, high-impact shortened format over two days where the fan - either at Eden Park or watching the television coverage which will go global – can witness the entire NRL in action. It will be a stunning spectacle.
“But the NRL Auckland Nines will transcend rugby league. This is a major event which will have a carnival atmosphere. We are expecting up to 96,000 fans over the two days. There is potential for fan trails, street parades, community events at local rugby league clubs. Our hope is that in 15 years’ time the event is still going and that it becomes one of the key events in this part of the world.”
It’s that combination of fierce competition on the field and a fun atmosphere off it which has ATEED’s General Manager Destination and Marketing Rachael Carroll convinced the NRL Auckland Nines is one of a series of events that will contribute towards Auckland’s goal to be the world’s most liveable city.
“The NRL Auckland Nines is the only event of its kind in New Zealand. It is unprecedented. Never before in the game’s history have all 16 NRL teams played in one tournament, in one place for one weekend,” she said.
“The tournament will become an economic anchor over time and bring legacy benefits to Auckland and New Zealand by way of rugby league development.”
Mr Higgins paid tribute to ATEED for their strategic vision and commitment in backing the NRL Auckland Nines.
“This event doesn’t happen without ATEED’s support,” he said. “We knew right from the outset that we would need Auckland behind us. Clearly the event will generate a big spend in Auckland from visitors that make their way to the NRL Auckland Nines.
“But the thing that has really impressed is ATEED’s genuine commitment to grow rugby league in New Zealand.”
Ms Carroll concurs. “Hosting the NRL Auckland Nines will go a long way to enhancing the profile of rugby league in New Zealand and will leave lasting legacies in Auckland,” she said, adding that hosting the NRL Auckland Nines could help attract more major rugby league events to Auckland in the future.
GENERAL ADMISSION (PRICES ARE INCL OF GST AND IN NZ$)
ALL TICKET PRICES ARE FOR 2 DAYS:
*Includes 2 adults and 3 children. Additional family tickets are $69 per adult and $49 per child. Family Zone is also an alcohol free zone.
Tickets go on sale through Ticketek on September 24