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With the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines now less than three weeks away, all 16 coaches are looking through their NRL squads to determine who fits the format, who isn't fit enough to play and whose fitness they'd rather not risk.

But what if you could pick anyone? What if Marty McFly was in charge of selections and could take the Delorean back in time and have his pick of the best to ever play the game? Here are the 10 players we think would be high on his list of potential recruits.

10. Gorden Tallis

Yes, the Nines concept is all about the little men, the fast men, the smart men, but you also need a fair dosage of grunt in the centre of the park and few forwards in the modern era matched ferociousness and athleticism quite like the 'Raging Bull'. In 214 top grade games Tallis scored 66 tries and simply scared opposition players out of scoring hundreds more. And you know what, if big Gordie pulled on the boots even now, we reckon he wouldn't look too out of place.

9. David Peachey

Truth be told, if there were enough kids hanging around the streets of Dubbo, David Peachey was probably playing Nines long before the concept was dressed up and marketed to millions. Blessed with sublime skill and a penchant for panache, 'Peach' may have frustrated coaches with his lackadaisical antics but they brought crowds to their feet. And if you think he was no more than a good club footballer over 257 games for the Sharks and Rabbitohs, check out his influence in his lone Origin appearance in 2000.

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8. Dale Shearer

'Rowdy' is due to turn 50 later this year but we reckon if you asked him to pull on the boots for one last game in Auckland, he'd be at the airport quicker than you could say 'chilly bin'. A Queensland Origin representative on 26 occasions between 1985 and 1996, Shearer was as brilliant as he was quick and lived for the chance to run into open spaces. And if there was no space to run into, he'd simply start a kicking duel. Please someone, bring back the kicking duel!

7. Anthony Mundine

Say what you will about 'The Man' but at his prime fans flocked to watch a genius at work, whether creating for teammates or scoring tries himself. His deft kicking game laid on the first try of the 1999 Grand Final and should have led to a second, his legacy somewhat cruelled by a spilt pick-up on the Storm line that would have put his team likely beyond reach. He left the game just 12 months later but would have revelled in the space afforded by the Nines format. 

6. Phil Blake

How fitting would it be that the man who scored the Warriors' first try in 1995 should return to do it all again exactly 20 years later? When Phil Blake burst onto the scene in Manly's reserve grade team in the early 1980s, rugby league watched a talent emerge that had seasoned journalists in raptures. In 1982 he was named the Dally M Rookie of the Year at just 18 years of age and the next season scored a club record 27 tries for the Sea Eagles, a record that still stands to this day. In 268 games across six clubs Blake scored 138 tries and we'd give anything to see just one more chip-and-chase from the outside of his right boot at Eden Park on January 31. 

5. Ellery Hanley

Powerful enough to handle any forward, smart enough to outwit any half and strong and fast enough to elude any outside back, Ellery Hanley was an English rugby league gift the likes of which we may never see again. Hanley didn't arrive in Australia for his first stint with Balmain until Round 20, 1988 but with the 'Black Pearl' in the centres, the Tigers won their last two premiership matches, a mid-week playoff for fifth against Penrith and semi-final clashes with Manly, Canberra and Cronulla before losing in the Grand Final to Canterbury, where Hanley was taken out off the ball by the Bulldogs defence. He was the complete player and would dominate a Nines game like few others.

4. Allan Langer

The beauty of Allan Langer is that he would do things in a Nines game that no one else had even thought of. The master of the quick tap and catching defences off guard, 'Alf' would have found every slowly retreating forward or slightly distracted outside back and exposed them live in front of tens of thousands of people. Close to the line he would be next to impossible to stop as he stepped and kicked his opponents to the point of delusion. The only question mark with Langer would be whether his teammates would be smart enough to keep up.

3. Preston Campbell

It is to John Lang's eternal credit that for some reason, after Preston Campbell had played just one of his first 38 NRL games as a No.7, the Sharks coach decided to make him his team's halfback midway through 2001. In 38 games previously Campbell had scored 12 tries; over the next 17 games he scored 13 tries, took Cronulla to within one win of a grand final and walked away as the 2001 Dally M Player of the Year. 'Presto' was simply untouchable and after a difficult season under Chris Anderson in 2002 worked under Lang again at Penrith in 2003 and won himself a premiership. Like Langer, he'd make tiring forwards look silly at a Nines tournament.

2. Bob Fulton

Possibly the most complete footballer the game has ever seen, Fulton owned the brutal 1973 Grand Final between Manly and Cronulla and was blessed the perfect mix of speed, skill and strength. With an ability to find gaps in defences that didn't ever seem to exist in the first place, Fulton would have revelled in the opportunities afforded by the nine-a-side format. And if he needed to come off for a spell at any stage, you could simply hand him the clipboard and put his coaching genius to good use.

1. Nathan Blacklock

In 102 games for the Dragons between 1998 and 2001, Nathan Blacklock scored 96 tries at a strike rate of a try every 1.063 games and is still the only player to ever score 20 or more tries in four consecutive seasons. A product of the tiny town of Tingha in north-west New South Wales, Blacklock showed an uncanny ability to find the tryline game after game, season after season, with a fair degree of showmanship thrown in for good measure. The tries scored in last year's inaugural tournament were spectacular; we'd love to have seen what 'Tingha' could have come up with.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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