Warriors' Dick Smith Nines team on community club visit to Marist Saints in Auckland on Thursday. Copyright: William Booth/photosport.co.nz Credit: Copyright: William Booth/photosport.co.nz Copyright: Copyright: William Booth/photosport.co.nz
He's a self-confessed convert to the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines concept but Warriors and Kiwis legend Awen Guttenbeil has warned against using the momentum of this weekend to push for a second NRL team in New Zealand.
More than 90,000 rugby league fans will converge on Eden Park over the next two days with half of those fans coming in from outside of Auckland in a show of strength for the game in New Zealand.
That combined with the response from parents and children to city-wide community visits from all 16 NRL clubs in the lead-up has once again raised the question as to whether there is room for another New Zealand team to join the Warriors in the NRL.
"Once we get success with the Warriors then we can bring another team in," Guttenbeil told NRL.com as he hosted the Broncos at his junior club, the Point Chevalier Pirates. "We've got to win that first. Let's not spread our talent around; get them all in one place!
"We love rugby league and a winning side, we love them even more.
"The local leagues [in Wellington and Christchurch] aren't the healthiest but if you were going to go somewhere else I'd probably say Wellington as opposed to Auckland, but I think that's a few years off.
"We're happy that the Nines are here, we'll focus on that and hopefully a good season for the Warriors."
South Sydney's Nines skipper Ben Te'o only switched from rugby union to join the Hibiscus Coast Raiders at 16 years of age and said that he has noticed a change in the way rugby league is viewed in New Zealand.
Convinced that the nation has the talent that could support a second NRL team, Te'o said the perception of rugby league has changed considerably since his days playing junior rugby.
"Rugby union was the mainstream and league was the roughies," Te'o said. "It was a rough game for some rough people but once I played it I fell in love with it but I think things are changing over here.
"When the Kiwis and the Warriors are going well, rugby league is big over here and this is just going to add to it.
"I think you'd [put a second team in] Wellington but I definitely think if you can grow the game there is enough talent over here. From me personally growing up here, there's unlimited talent, you've just got to get them early and get them focused."
NRL stars have been overwhelmed by the response since arriving in Auckland with close to 7000 people turning out to the at the Aotea Civic Reception in the city CBD on Friday for the unique opportunity to meet all 16 NRL teams in the one place at the one time.
Duco Events director Dean Lonergan told NRL.com that they had far exceeded their expectations for the first year of the Nines concept and have quickly turned people such as Guttenbeil into believers.
"I was sceptical at first; it sounded great but I thought they'd never get it off the ground," Guttenbeil said. "And they got it over the goalposts, it's awesome.
"It's captivated Auckland and I think a lot of New Zealanders and everyone is just amping to get there and be a part of the festival and it's a great thing that the festival is rugby league.
"Great for the game, to have all the players here at one time is just going to be huge."