Secrets and lies from Auckland Nines
There are two sets of players at the Auckland Nines: those who refuse to divulge any secret moves they have planned for the game's newest concept and those who say they have no secret moves.
We think the second group are liars.
With creative licence that Baz Luhrmann could only dream of, the inaugural Auckland Nines will be an expression session of rugby league talent the likes of which we have never seen but getting an inside tip on what they may have in store is harder than stopping a Feleti Mateo offload.
"We're not telling you, we'll keep that a secret. You'll see when we play," says Panthers recruit Tyrone Peachey, whose experience playing in the Aboriginal Knockout at least gives him some insight into what it's like to play two games in a day.
"We only had one team run but it's just going to be go out there and play footy," Knights centre Dane Gagai unconvincingly tells NRL.com. "No secret moves and if there was a secret move that's why they call it a secret."
Titans captain Greg Bird delivered the ultimate double-bluff when he went as far as saying any team who was heading into games with tricks up their sleeve was courting disaster.
"I don't think the set moves or the trick plays are going to be the ones that work in this form of the game," Bird says. "I think it's going to be playing fast and getting the offload, playing off the cuff. The players that play off the cuff are going to be the ones that are hard to handle.
"That's the beauty of the concept, structure isn't everything. The 13-man game is all about structure and who can execute their plays, this will be all off the cuff – the Albert Kellys who can pull something out of their hat and dazzle everyone."
The Cowboys, with possibly the biggest set of forwards in the tournament, have been able to glean some inside knowledge from assistant coach David Furner who played in the Super League World Nines in 1996 and 1997.
Despite a 'secret' video session looking over old footage, the Cowboys' skipper this weekend, Gavin Cooper, remains sceptical as to whether the trick shots will come off.
"He (Furner) actually had a copy of the '97 World Nines that he brought in and showed us – it was basically a 'Furns' highlight reel," Cooper reveals. "He showed us all the stuff he used to do and I don't know if it will work in the game this weekend but we'll see. If one of them comes off he'll be a very happy man.
"Jimmy (James Tamou) thinks he wears No.7 most of the time and he loves a no-look pass and Jase (Jason Taumalolo) can step like Shaun Johnson but he's 40 kilos heavier. It will be scary with him coming at you."
South Sydney coach Michael Maguire has moulded his Telstra Premiership team into a consistent top four squad by installing grit and discipline into the red and green but captain elect Ben Te'o says the Rabbitohs may have to look more outside the box.
"He's thought about some structure and we tried to play some structure but that didn't really work out too well," Te'o says. "We'll go for the yards early up the middle, see how it goes, we're not going to spin it too early... A few little short kicks.
"Dave Tyrrell's not going to try (a chip-and-chase). Probably me and Chris McQueen are the guys who might get a bit excited out there with all the space.
"There might be a few brain explosions out there. You're going to see some space and think you can do something."
Not surprisingly, Wests Tigers captain and hooker Robbie Farah is hoping to use a few pet plays up the middle of the ruck to catch out retreating defensive lines.
"We had a bit of a run around at training during the week and I think the thing I noticed is it's not just about spreading the ball wide," Farah says. "There's going to be opportunities through the middle of the ruck, testing the big guys out there, especially under fatigue.
"The other one is a lot of change of angles, run-arounds, getting the big guys moving sideways so hopefully we can implement those and they'll work for us."
Another aspect that has been largely overlooked despite the millions of dollars up for grabs is which team boasts the most proficient field goal exponents.
Having witnessed the field goal shootout at the Broncos' headquarters during the week you can be assured that Martin Kennedy and Todd Lowrie won't be stepping up, but even goalkicking captain Corey Parker is unsure whether he will get the nod.
"I've put my hand up but if you saw practice the other day you'd probably put your own hand up the way we were going," Parker offers. "It will be interesting, put it that way.
"I think we all missed to be honest but you're looking at guys like Ben Hunt and Andrew McCullough, the natural sort of kickers. If we go anywhere near the way we went the other day anyone could have a kick."
But there's one thing that 14 of the teams were unanimous on: they're just happy they're not the Sharks or Knights and playing first-up.
"I'm glad we're about four or five games down the list so we can see how other teams play," Cooper says.