NRL stars get primed for Nines
NRL.com spoke to a number of NRL stars at the recent Auckland Nines jersey launch press conference at Sydney's George Street Dick Smith franchise, with many hopeful of taking part or confirmed to play in the tournament.
Brisbane's Ben Hunt, Penrith's Jamie Soward and Sydney Roosters' Shaun Kenny-Dowall are all confirmed while South Sydney's Adam Reynolds, Melbourne's Sisa Waqa and Parramatta's Kelepi Tanganoa all told NRL.com they were hopeful of taking part.
Hunt, a man likely to carry prime playmaking responsibility for the Brisbane Broncos in 2014, tipped a wider and faster style of play at the tournament.
"There's going to be a lot more room on the field with only nine players so I think the faster players are going to get a lot more room to move and really carve it up," Hunt told NRL.com.
The kicking game of each side will be crucial, he added.
"Field position's going to be a big part of it so if you've got a good kicking game and find the grass a lot, that's really going to come into winning the game," he said.
Hunt said he would definitely feature in the tournament but wasn't yet sure what the rest of the squad would look like. He said the Broncos had started doing some work on structures for the Nines but "it's a bit hard to really know [what's required]; we've started doing a little bit and we'll keep working on it up until the start of the competition".
Both Soward and Reynolds said while kicking will be important, the attacking nature of the Nines will make possession – and holding onto the ball – even more critical than in regular NRL.
"The way the rules are set up it's going to be enticing to try and go for a couple of 40/20s but I think the key might just be to hold the ball for as long as you can and get points when you can," said Soward, a man renowned for his accurate long kicking game.
He said during his recent stint in the UK he was able to have a look at a similar concept they have over there and get some ideas.
"Although there's a few less players [on the field] it seems to be that similar stuff will get you in [to score]; it's going to be ball control and completing your sets."
Soward said getting the right combination of big and small players would also prove crucial.
"If your [squad is] too small you're going to get run over and if you're too big you're going to get run around... I'm glad I'm not the coach," he said
South Sydney's Reynolds – another man well known for controlling play through accurate kicks – agreed kicking would be just one aspect of Nines play.
"There's a lot of other aspects; you don't want to turn over ball cheaply, there's a lot of space out on the field that you have to defend. We'll be trying our best to keep the ball," he said.
"It's going to be tough [in defence] – there's a lot of space out there and a lot of quality players that can do some damage... It's going to be great action for the fans."
Although the Rabbitohs squad hasn't yet named, Reynolds said he would be unsurprised if Souths coach Michael Maguire took a similar option to the Roosters' Trent Robinson and rested a number of World Cup players. For the Rabbitohs that would include the three Burgess bothers who played for England – Sam, George and Tom – as well as Kiwi representatives Issac Luke and Bryson Goodwin and Kangaroos star Greg Inglis.
"I'm thinking they'll probably get rested, they've only just got back into training," Reynolds said. "They deserve the rest, they've had a hard off season, they've done well for their countries."
The Storm's Waqa said his background in rugby sevens should help him adjust to the reduced format.
"It's going to be quick and fast-paced compared to the 13-a-side, Nines is pretty much like sevens in rugby – you've just got to do your best," Waqa said. "I come from sevens background, Nines is pretty much 'do your best and throw the ball around'."
Eels backrower Tanganoa said he was just excited to hopefully be involved.
"I reckon it will be exciting, I'm just looking forward to it," Tanganoa said. "If I play - I'll just get the ball and run around!"
After missing the end of 2013 through injury, an extremely fit-looking Tanganoa said he was back at full training. "I'm just trying to build my fitness up and hopefully start getting some games in," he said.
Roosters centre Kenny-Dowall said he expected to have to adapt his game on the fly to the difference structure of Nines football, but also believed his game was suited to the format.
Asked about greater opportunities to run from dummy-half, Kenny-Dowall said, "Yeah that's my game you know, space out wide and through the middle, there's going to be plenty of space and I'm excited about it.
"It's something we're going to have to adapt to on the run and see the flow of the games. Obviously we're going to have to watch a lot of the games and adapt on the run."