How to win the Auckland Nines

Twelve months after guiding the Cowboys to their first top-grade title, North Queensland coach Paul Green says he will adopt the same philosophy towards this weekend's Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines.

With his squad expected to be announced on Tuesday, Green is tipped to once again leave Johnathan Thurston back in Townsville wrapped tightly in cotton wool while Test props James Tamou and Matt Scott are racing the clock to be fit for Round 1 and will also not take part.

The latest Auckland Nines squad lists

Antonio Winterstein and Rob Lui have both dropped hints that they will be in New Zealand this weekend and young flyers such as Kyle Feldt and Javid Bowen are all but certainties to play again, Feldt having been named the breakout player of the tournament last year.

But ask the coach how to win a Nines tournament and the defending champ says he is still at a loss to explain what it takes.

"I wouldn't have a clue! Bit of luck?" was Green's response.

"We didn't take it very seriously last year, and when I say that I mean that we didn't prepare for it. I think we had one training session before we left and we'll do the same this year."

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But underlying the vivid memories of expansive ball movement, long-range tries, spectacular try-scoring feats and Freddy's 70 (80? 90?) metre intercept try was the value of modern rugby league principles and how they hold up in the nine-a-side format.

Having been a member of the Broncos team that lost to the Cowboys 16-7 in the final last year, Andrew McCullough will this year captain a Brisbane team minus their Four Nations representatives but boasting the wizardry of Anthony Milford for the first time.

Master coach Wayne Bennett has not yet let any of the Brisbane boys practise their flick passes, corner post-evading contortionism or double under run-arounds with two switches of play, merely insisting his side make their tackles and complete their sets.

"The game shouldn't change too much. Your structures that you put in place still work there like they do in normal football," McCullough said. "You push up as you would for a 13-man game when someone's running the ball and all those little things count.

"We didn't take it too seriously last year but in saying that we tackled well and played for each other.

"You still have to tackle properly and you still have to get through your sets well. In the Nines, if you complete your sets well most of the time you can score a try or two so you still have to be able to hang onto the ball and complete well."

Ah defence, the dreaded 'D' word of rugby league exhibitionism.

With all due respect, the 90,000 fans who crammed into Eden Park last year didn't shell out their Kiwi dollars to see effort upon effort in defence from the likes of Chris Houston, Joel Riethmuller and Ben Lowe but they are exactly the types of players a team needs to be successful with four less men on the park.

Yes it's the attacking exploits that we will remember, but it's determination in defence that allows you to keep a side like the Warriors to nil, as the Cowboys did in their semi-final last year, much to the chagrin of the parochial Kiwi crowd.

"It's not as open a game as what people think. People think that with nine-a-side you can throw the ball around and you'll be right but it wasn't as open as what people probably thought it would be and we defended pretty well in the Nines last year," said Green.

"Hopefully that showed a little bit of a shift in attitude[at the Cowboys] because historically we've never had any problems scoring points, we've probably just had a few dramas defending points in recent seasons."

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