Top 9 Nines players at new clubs
Not only does the 2016 Downer NRL Auckland Nines kick off a new season of footy with a fast and furious two-day tournament, it also gives fans their first chance to see star signings in action at their new clubs. Here are nine of the best on show at this year's tournament.
9. Matt Parcell – Sea Eagles (from Broncos)
A key member of the Ipswich Jets team that brought a new brand of free-flowing attacking rugby league to the Intrust Super Cup in recent seasons – dominating the competition last year before thumping the Newcastle Knights to clinch the State Championship title – Parcell is an intriguing signing for Manly's new-look side this year. He's set to split the hooking duties with fellow recruit Apisai Koroisau in the NRL but he can push his claims for the No.9 jersey with a star showing at the Nines.
8. Joseph Paulo – Sharks (from Eels)
The ball-playing back-rower already knows what it takes to light up a tournament – which he did with aplomb at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, carrying the USA into an improbable quarter-finals berth as captain. Aside from that star-making turn Paulo has also represented the NRL All Stars, City Origin and Samoa, so the big stage of a sold-out Eden Park won't present any problems for the Cronulla recruit.
7. Tim Lafai – Dragons (from Bulldogs)
Lafai joined the Dragons after fellow centre Will Hopoate signed for the Bulldogs in the off-season, and if he can regain the form he showed in 2014 he could help cure St George Illawarra's recent woes in attack. Lafai was the Bulldogs' leading try-scorer that season – crossing 14 times to help his club reach the NRL Grand Final. The hard-running Samoa international could make the perfect impression for his new club if he can grab a few more four-pointers (or five-pointers) this weekend.
6. Chris McQueen – Titans (from Rabbitohs)
The Titans lost the likes of Nate Myles and Dave Taylor from their forward pack at the end of the 2015 season – not to mention backline stars Aidan Sezer and James Roberts – so they needed to pick up some decent names to boost their stocks in 2016. They've got a good one in McQueen, a Queensland State of Origin representative and premiership-winner with Souths who will take a role in the back row but can fill a spot in the outside backs as well when needed. That versatility should make McQueen a very handy Nines player – he was a member of last year's title-winning Rabbitohs side – and a key member of the Gold Coast club in the next few years.
5. Damien Cook – Rabbitohs (from Bulldogs)
Cook's late-season cameo in the Bulldogs No.9 jersey last year was so impressive that observers could only nod in approval when South Sydney signed him to replace New Zealand international Issac Luke. Cook is set to challenge Cameron McInnes for the starting hooker role and both dummy-halves have been included in the Rabbitohs' Nines squad, who carry the extra burden of being defending champions. Cook has already shown he's a quality defender but he'll get more chances to show off his attacking prowess in the Nines format.
4. Kurt Mann – Dragons (from Storm)
St George Illawarra's recruitment of Gareth Widdop from the Storm a couple of years ago worked so well that Widdop is now a co-captain at the club, so it's no surprise to see them snap up another promising Melbourne player in Kurt Mann. Mann can play a number of roles in the backline but he could wear the No.1 at St George Illawarra this season with NSW fullback Josh Dugan keen to shift into the centres at club level. And what better way for Mann to kick off life in the Dragons backline than alongside Dugan at the Auckland Nines.
3. Jeff Robson – Warriors (from Sharks)
While other Warriors signings have understandably grabbed the headlines, the recruitment of no-frills half Jeff Robson could turn out to be a masterstroke for the New Zealand club. Robson's an old-fashioned organiser and his presence could really free up livewire superstar Shaun Johnson – who has been electric at international level for years but has yet to achieve true success at club level. His unassuming style means Robson will get to fly under the radar in his first performances on home turf at his new club, but with some sensational talents around him in the backline the former Shark could have a couple of field days pulling the strings.
2. Joe Burgess – Roosters (from Wigan)
Most of the off-season player move talk surrounding the Roosters has centred around their losses – most notably Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney and Michael Jennings. The departure of those three means a significant reshuffle is on the cards for the Tricolours' backline, but one new face who brings strike power of his own is English speedster Burgess. A try-scoring whiz for Wigan in the Super League, Burgess is a pure finisher and could be in store for a few long-range efforts if he gets some space to move out wide at the Nines.
1. Roger Tuivasa-Scheck – Warriors (from Roosters)
As a young, super-talented, attack-minded New Zealand international, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck may just have been the perfect signing for a Warriors team that has always been one of the league's best entertainers. He's only got a single season of wearing the No.1 jersey on his back behind him but already many rate 'RTS' as the most dangerous fullback in rugby league, and fans are drooling at the prospect of seeing what one of the game's best ball-runners can do when he teams up with Shaun Johnson against a nine-man defensive line.
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