The draw for the inaugural Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines has, in the best traditions of tournament play, come up with a ‘Pool of Death’.
The NRL premier Roosters have been drawn alongside the Broncos, Bulldogs and Eels in a draw that will thrill fans but offer no easy introduction to Nines play for the respective coaches.
The pools for the rugby league extravaganza at Eden Park on February 15 and 16 are:
• (YELLOW) Warriors, Raiders, Sea Eagles and Cowboys
• (GREEN) Roosters, Eels, Broncos and Bulldogs
• (BLUE) Sharks, Knights, Tigers and Titans
• (RED) Storm, Panthers, Rabbitohs and Dragons.
The Sharks and Knights will open the tournament which has been left with many mouth-watering prospects following the draw.
A pool game between two of the game’s great entertainers – 2013 top four sides the Storm and Rabbitohs will be a highlight.
The ‘Pool of Death’ West Sydney derby between the Eels and Bulldogs will only add to their particular rivalry.
And the Broncos brass will now be under pressure to select new recruit Ben Barba to help ensure they are one of the two teams to progress from their group.
Locally, the home team is already being talked up as prospective first-up winners.
Matt Elliott’s Warriors open up against the Raiders at 2.25pm on Saturday, Feb 15th.
“I like the chances of the Warriors being one of the two sides to advance from their pool,” Warriors legend, club centurion and former skipper Monty Betham said.
“The clubs with the great rugby league tradition aren’t necessarily going to be great at Nines.
“Manly will be difficult and the Cowboys have some real talent but the Raiders are from the land of the giants – big powerful forwards aren’t going to get it done in Nines.”
The clubs will compete for a New Zealand record $2.6 million in prize money and, of course, the chance to win the inaugural Dick Smith Auckland Nines Tournament title.
The NRL’s 16 clubs have all guaranteed at least one top five player from each of the club’s salary cap. They will play in Auckland alongside at least 12 of each club’s top 25 salary capped players.
Some of the stars already on record as saying they want to play in the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines include Sam Thaiday, Willie Mason, Anthony Watmough, Greg Bird, Robbie Farah, Paul Gallen and Todd Carney.
They join rugby league heavyweights like Mal Meninga and Laurie Daley and arguably the game's greatest coach, Newcastle Knights mentor Wayne Bennett in backing the new event.
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 Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines "is going to be a great celebration of rugby league and the Knight's can't wait to be a part of that''.
Today’s draw followed the announcement that consumer electronics company sponsor Dick Smith has signed on as the tournament’s sponsor - the second major partner to sign on to the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines alongside Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) which will invest NZ$9 million over five years.