Record-breaking Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater has provided the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines an unexpected boost, signalling to organisers his intention to play next year.
The 25-Test Australian star will be at Mount Smart Stadium this afternoon for the Round 18 NRL Telstra Premiership clash between the Warriors and the Storm when the dates for the 2016 tournament will be officially announced.
Slater expects his problem shoulder, which brought an abrupt end to his NRL season last month, will be 100 per cent recovered in time for him to play next year.
"I have always wanted to play a Nines tournament because I know it would suit my style of play," says Slater.
"I won't have had a footy game for more than seven months by the time the Nines rolls around.
"Playing breaks up what is otherwise going be a very long and tedious pre-season for me."
Melbourne Storm are supportive of Slater, particularly as it provides them the clearest indication yet of his intention to re-sign with the club in 2016, and with the Nines format allowing unlimited rolling substitutions, a place will be kept free for him in their 18-man squad.
"I will be 100 per cent guided by the advice of our medical team," says Storm coach Craig Bellamy.
"It makes sense why Billy wants to play (the Nines) but ultimately they'll decide whether he takes the field."
Storm physiotherapist Tony Ayoub says early signs are encouraging.
"We are doing everything we can to ensure he’s fit to play in the Nines."
Slater's potential involvement reinforces the reputation of the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines as an event where the stars turn up to play.
Benji Marshall, Kieran Foran, Josh Dugan and Daly Cherry-Evans all played the Nines this year while expectation has further increased on the home team following the recent capture of a couple of high profile recruits.
Warriors fans are all hopeful they will see Issac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck wearing Warriors jerseys for the first time next year at the Nines alongside International Player of the Year, Shaun Johnson.
Promoter Duco Events has underlined its commitment to delivering a world class event in which spectators leave with enduring memories.
Two day tickets will start from NZ$69 and in most categories children will be half price.
"Fans who want the first pick of the best seats at Eden Park are advised to join the early bird waiting list," says director David Higgins.
"That gives you a chance of getting the seats you want before tickets go on-sale to the general public on August 20.
"With big name stars coming and great value for money, we are determined to make this the best Nines tournament yet."
Join the waiting list: nrlaucklandnines.co.nz