Defence, control the keys for Nines

Almost 300 players and 16 coaches descended upon Aotea Square on Friday, preparing themselves for the colourful carnival that is the NRL Auckland Nines. 

But while the shortened version of the game continues to advertise itself as rugby league's answer to cricket's Twenty20, promising more razzle dazzle than New Year's Eve on Groundhog Day, the game's participants said last year's tournament was harder than it seemed. 

"It was quite surprising," Melbourne's Nines captain Will Chambers told NRL.com. 

"Obviously everyone tires out, so everyone gets taxed a lot easier. The ball might move around more, but everyone tires."

In fact, in the inaugural Nines Panthers coach Ivan Cleary recalled how the second day's play was noticeably slower than the first. 

"As it progressed, everyone got a bit more conservative. Maybe they were getting tired too," Cleary said.

"You still have to hold the ball, you'll get in trouble if you do. You've got to find that balance between throwing it around and still being accurate."

Watch every game of the Auckland Nines LIVE with NRL Digital Pass.

The Penrith mentor said his side's limited preparations meant it was difficult to employ any kind of strategy or tactics and said it was more effective to rely on their natural instincts in attack.  

"I think everyone's similar, I don't think anyone's spent a lot of time on it," he said. 

"It's about coming up with a simple way to play and letting the boys get out and have a game, really. They've all trained hard and trained for a long time so they just want to play."

Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey also preached ball control to his team for the weekend, but admitted to working on the game's quick restarts – particularly the smaller scrums and quicker turnovers. 

"It's so hectic out on the field. The most important part is to hold onto the ball. I think you saw last year, any team that made an error paid the price really," Toovey told NRL.com.

"Once the scoring team kicks off, it's vital you get the ball back straight away. Last year, I remember the Warriors kicked off three to four times and they got the ball back two to three of those times. That's a killer.

"We did a bit of research on the starts of play, all the kickoffs and whatnot. There are still times when you can pull off those trick shots, but you still need the ball to do it."

The buzzword of defence leading into the weekend was best summed up by one of the few superstars that could challenge home-town hero Shaun Johnson for cult status. 

In what was a sign of Anthony Milford's awareness of his new responsibilities playing in the front line, the Broncos recruit stressed the importance of playing without the ball. 

"Yeah it's a bit more room, but it's as much a defensive game as it is for attack," the former Raider said. 

"Last year I missed out and I was pretty gutted because it looked like a lot of fun. I had to bite the lip there but now I'm thankful enough to have the opportunity to come this year. It's a good event."

Watch every game of the Auckland Nines LIVE with NRL Digital Pass.