Bookies scramble to adjust Nines markets
Bookmakers have adjusted their odds for this weekend's inaugural Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines tournament following some surprises in the team lists.
St George Illawarra are the big firmers with Sportsbet.com.au, in from $15 to $10 after they named a close-to-NRL-strength squad, while several teams have blown out after electing to leave some big names at home - including South Sydney ($13 out to $21), Wests Tigers ($17 out to $26) and Canberra ($31 out to $41).
Check out the full Auckland Nines squads hereMeanwhile the Warriors are even stronger favourites than they were prior to the team lists being named, firming from $5.50 to $4.50, with the board twiddlers fans of the attack-oriented side that includes star Kiwis half Shaun Johnson, whose electric running game and instinctive creativity seems perfectly suited to the format.
The Warriors also boast other attacking weapons including English Test fullback Sam Tomkins and Tongan backline wrecking ball Konrad Hurrell, plus a host of mobile young back-rowers. They have seen the bulk of early betting, with Sportsbet reporting four times as much staked on the Warriors as any other club.
The Knights hold firm on the second line of betting at $8 after naming their first-choice NRL halves pairing of Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts, as well as flying backline players Akuila Uate, Dane Gagai and Joseph Leilua.
The Panthers and Titans are equal third favourites at $9, having drifted slightly from $8 and $8.50 respectively, after naming strong squads, closely followed by the Sharks and Dragons (both $10) after they each named squads packed with current NRL and representative players including Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita and Todd Carney (Sharks) and Josh Dugan, Brett Morris and Trent Merrin (Dragons).
The Sharks are so far the second-most heavily backed side after the Warriors, with the Panthers the third most popular in early betting.
The Eels drifted from $12 to $17 after Jarryd Hayne (hamstring) and Will Hopoate (groin) were not considered due to injury and Tim Mannah rested, but the side is otherwise close to NRL-strength.
Nevertheless, punters have seen some value in the Eels, who are currently the fourth-most backed side on Sportsbet.
The Broncos closed from $13 to $11 after Ben Barba, Josh Hoffman, Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday and Matt Gillett were named.
Manly, perhaps surprisingly, only drifted from $15 to $17 after leaving out Brett and Glenn Stewart, Anthony Watmough, Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai and Kieran Foran, and including 40-year-old club legend Steve Menzies.
They were level with the Cowboys ($21 in to $17), who left out Test and Origin star Johnathan Thurston but included World Cup players James Tamou, Tariq Sims, Rory Kostjasyn and Antonio Winterstein.
The Rabbitohs blew out after electing not to take any of the four Burgess brothers or World Cup stars Greg Inglis, Issac Luke, Bryson Goodwin, or star half Adam Reynolds - many of whom, particularly Inglis, Luke, and Sam Burgess, could have made a huge impact in the shortened game.
NRL premiers the Roosters amazingly tightened from $31 into $21 despite leaving out an avalanche of representative stars (several of whom are still recovering from injuries) including Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Sonny Bill Williams, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Boyd Cordner, Michael Jennings and James Maloney. The Tricolours are also taking plenty of rookies in Nene Macdonald, Rhyse Martin, Jonathan Reuben, Siosiua Taukeiaho, Jackson Hastingsand Paul Rokolati as well as 42-year-old former great Brad Fittler.
Perhaps just as surprisingly Wests Tigers blew out from $17 to $26 despite the notable absentees - such as Luke Brooks, Tim Simona and Tim Moltzen - being on the injured list before the side was named. They have also included plenty of attacking stars including Robbie Farah, Marika Koroibete and Curtis Sironen.
The Storm didn't move much, out from $23 to $26, with notable absentees Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk never in contention due to off-season surgeries and Cameron Smith always extremely long odds to take part given his huge representative workload.
On the last line of betting at $41 are the Raiders and Bulldogs, out from $31 and $34 respectively. Canberra have left plenty of firepower at home in Anthony Milford, Josh Papalii, Edrick Lee and Jack Wighton, as well as club stalwarts Shaun Fensom, Josh McCrone and Dave Shillington.
The Bulldogs head across the ditch without a recognised playmaker (although Josh Reynolds is currently injured) and have also left out plenty of top squad players including Josh Morris, Krisnan Inu, Greg Eastwood, Sam Kasiano, James Graham, Trent Hodkinson, Frank Pritchard and Aiden Tolman.
Current Sportsbet.com.au odds (as of 12 February)
$4.50 New Zealand Warriors
$8.00 Newcastle Knights
$9.00 Gold Coast Titans
$9.00 Penrith Panthers
$10 Cronulla Sharks
$10 St. George Illawarra
$11 Brisbane Broncos
$17 Parramatta Eels
$17 North Queensland Cowboys
$17 Manly Sea Eagles
$21 South Sydney Rabbitohs
$21 Sydney Roosters
$26 Wests Tigers
$26 Melbourne Storm
$41 Canberra Raiders
$41 Canterbury Bulldogs