The battle lines for the third Auckland Nines tournament have been drawn as the NRL pre-season gears up for its first hit-out in season 2016.
This shapes up to be the most entertaining pool of the tournament's initial stages. In the Eels, Roosters and Rabbitohs you have three of the four semi-finalists from the 2015 tournament. For the Storm this will be the third year they'll have to face the Rabbitohs, with the Nines history between the sides standing at one win apiece (Storm 18-12 in 2014; Rabbitohs 24-4 in 2015).
Auckland Nines pools revealed
Full 2016 Auckland Nines draw
Top 10 new faces for the Auckland Nines
2016 Auckland Nines jerseys
Best tries of the 2015 Auckland Nines
Team of the 2015 Auckland Nines
Get your tickets to the 2016 tournament now
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
Past tournaments: 2014 – quarter finals; 2015 – premiers
Player to Watch: Adam Reynolds – Last year's tournament MVP, Reynolds led the Rabbitohs to Nines glory in an extra-time effort against the Sharks in the 2015 decider. The Souths halfback finished as the highest point-scorer in the competition too with 34 points thanks to two tries and 13 goals.
Predicted pool finish: 1st
Past tournaments: 2014 – quarter finals; 2015 – semi finals
Player to watch: Semi Radradra – Finished the inaugural Auckland Nines in 2014 as the tournament's leading try-scorer and has matched those try-scoring feats in the NRL since then. Radradra backed it up last year with some big metres as the Eels made the final four.
Predicted pool finish: 2nd
Past tournaments: 2014 – a pool stages; 2015 – semi finals
Player to Watch: Sio Siua Taukeiaho – Relatively unknown at last year's tournament, Taukeiaho has since become a New Zealand international after a breakout season. The Roosters back-rower produced the second-most tackle breaks (11) in the 2015 tournament.
Predicted pool finish: 3rd
Past tournaments: 2014 – pool stage; 2015 – pool stage
Player to Watch: Young Tonumaipea – With Kurt Mann and Mahe Fonua leaving the club the Storm winger can really get his year on track with a solid 2016 Nines showing. In last season's version the 23-year-old scored twice in the Storm's otherwise poor showings.
Predicted pool finish: 4th