Auckland Nines pool preview: Rangitoto
It makes sense the Rangitoto Pool gets its namesake from being a volcanic island near Auckland. Bar the Panthers, every team in this pool finished in the quarter finals in 2015 which means excitement shall reign supreme. The Knights will enter 2016 with the wood over the Wests Tigers, having smashed them 25-0 in the inaugural tournament two years ago. On top of that the Cowboys and Panthers will face off for the third straight year with North Queensland having the edge so far, with a 22-12 win in the quarter finals back in 2014 and an 18-12 win in the last tournament.
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NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
Past tournaments: 2014 – premiers; 2015 – quarter finals
Player to watch: Jason Taumalolo – They call him a wrecking ball for a reason and Taumalolo was at his unstoppable best last season. Taumalolo finished with the most tackle breaks (17) the 2015 tournament – six more than the next best.
Predicted pool finish: 1st
Past tournaments: 2014 – quarters; 2015 – quarters
Player to watch: Jake Mamo – His swerving hat-trick against the Dragons in the last tournament was one of the biggest highlights in the Nines so far, especially with Mamo outpacing NSW fullback Josh Dugan for one try. Mamo finished as the tournament's equal-leading try-scorer in 2015.
Predicted pool finish: 2nd
Past tournaments: 2014 – quarter finals; 2015 – pool stage
Player to watch: Reagan Campbell-Gillard – The Panthers prop had a breakout NRL season in 2015, and his form in the Auckland Nines was a preview of what was to come. Now a City Origin representative, Campbell-Gillard produced the most metres from a Panther in the last tournament.
Predicted pool finish: 3rd
Past tournaments: 2014 – pool stage; 2015 – quarter finals
Player to watch: Josh Drinkwater – Without Luke Brooks and Mitch Moses playing in 2015 it was Josh Drinkwater who led the Tigers to the quarters. The club's halves back-up was only one of two players to kick a 40/20 in the 2015 tournament.
Predicted pool finish: 4th