Why defence is the key to Nines success
Captains at the Dick Smith Auckland Nines captains breakfast have delved into the unspoken skill that will decide who wins the inaugural tournament – tackling.
With tries scored under the posts worth an additional point in the Nines, there is also every incentive to chase down every last line break in a bid to at least force tryscorers to plant the ball somewhere wide of the posts.
"I think the five-point zone is a great concept," Brisbane skipper and tackling machine Corey Parker told NRL.com.
"If you're defending on the line you'll be looking at hookers to barge over, and front-rowers, and then if there's a breakaway in play it gives an incentive for the defensive player to retreat and try to stop that five-point zone. If it goes try-for-try that's going to be pretty crucial."
Sharks skipper Paul Gallen was of the same mind.
"It's going to add incentive for the defensive team to try and get back there and stop the play and getting inside that five-point zone," he said.
"If it does go try for try that one point difference will make a helluva difference come the end of the game, especially with the scoring team kicking off."
Parker said all the talk had been around attacking strategies – "but you've still got to be able to defend".
"You'll see some pretty classy things from people you might not expect [in attack] but I'm more interested in the defence side of things and how that's going to go," he said.
Titans captain Greg Bird told NRL.com the bigger players who are able to offload will put huge pressure on defences.
"You try and stop Andrew Fifita one-on-one and you're going to have no chance," he said.
"You need two or three to get him down to the ground and stop the offload. You take three players out of the nine, there's only six [defenders] left to cover the rest of the team.
"I think that's an angle a lot of the teams will try to utilise – the offload. Some of the players that can do it better are going to have to be covered up."
Bulldogs coach Jim Dymock referred to his playing days at Parramatta, where he won the rugby league World Sevens in 1997, for an idea of how important defence could be.
"It was different for the players, there was more space out there and it gives an opportunity for the backs who don't like tackling to shine," Dymock told NRL.com.
"Everyone's concerned about attack, we're trying to get them to focus on defence. If you can hold a side out for five tackles you're doing a pretty good job and when you get the ball just try to complete the set.
"You don't need to score on the first tackle. You've got five tackles to score so hopefully you can hold the ball.
"You don't want to be turning the ball over and putting added pressure on yourself. That's the main thing we've been trying to tell the boys, hold onto the ball, defend well and work hard."