Two-time Dally M player of the year and international cross-code sensation Jarryd Hayne will join Johnathan Thurston, Shaun Johnson and a massive line-up of rugby league superstars at the 2017 Downer NRL Auckland Nines, it can be confirmed today.
"I've been watching the Auckland Nines for a lot of years now and to know that I'm playing in it next year is exciting," says Hayne.
"Coach [Neil Henry] has told me that I'm playing in the Auckland Nines. I'm looking forward to getting down there with the guys. I'm pumped to be a part of it."
Rated the best player in the game in 2009 and again in 2014, Hayne made a stunning return to rugby league in 2016 after fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL for San Francisco 49ers.
He signed for the Gold Coast Titans and immediately showed he is still one of the game's elite talents, helping to guide his new club into the NRL finals for the first time since 2010.
"The guys have told me of the experiences of being in Auckland for the big weekend and I'm looking forward to getting down there having fun and getting our hands on that trophy," Hayne said. "And I'm also looking forward to seeing some of the best players in the world out there - Jonathan Thurston, Shaun Johnson and my skinny mate MVP from last year Corey Norman [Parramatta Eels]."
Gold Coast Titans CEO Graham Annesley confirmed Hayne would be in their line-up.
"Jarryd's obviously a world class international player," Annesley said. "Everyone knows what he's done in the NRL in the past. He's been off improving himself in the NFL - you know everyone doubted he had the ability to make it … but he did.
"He's just a general all round great athlete. So to have him as part of the Nines, particularly playing for the Titans, it's exciting for us and I think he'll bring a lot of people through the turn-style."
With Hayne on board, Annesley was confident the Titans would be contenders in Auckland in 2017.
"I'd like to think that we could give it a shake. We could certainly do with the prize money!
"Jarryd will add a lot to the team in terms of the extra open space there is on the field and hopefully it will give us a good shot."
Coach Neil Henry confirmed Hayne would be central to his plans as the Titans chase the coveted pre-season title.
"Jarryd's been a fantastic acquisition for our team here on the Gold Coast," said Henry.
"I think he's really suited to playing Nines football. Barring injury, Jarryd will be one of the first players picked.
"He'll get a bit more space out there and he carries the ball well. He tried his hand at Sevens to try and get over to the Olympics and he'll be no stranger to playing that style of footy."
Promising young halves Ash Taylor and Kane Elgey had also been earmarked for the tournament, Henry said.
Martin Snedden, the chief executive of Downer NRL Auckland Nines promoters Duco Events, said Hayne's presence added to an already incredible line-up of stars who had committed to the 2017 event.
"Over its first three years the Downer NRL Auckland Nines has attracted a who's who of the game's greatest players," Snedden said.
"And now we've got two of the all-time greats in Jarryd Hayne and Johnathan Thurston coming to showcase their skills in front of what will be another massive crowd."
Snedden pointed to the remarkable number of elite players the event had attracted over its first three years.
"Fans of world class sport have had the chance to see the likes of Sam Thaiday, Paul Gallen, Benji Marshall, Darius Boyd, Roger Tuivasa-Scheck, Greg Bird, Robbie Farah and the Burgess brothers light up Eden Park," he said.
"To date 48 Australian internationals and 44 Kiwi test players and 45 State of Origin stars, together with a host of Pacific nations test players have appeared in the tournament, and that number will increase significantly in 2017."
Grant Fenn, the chief executive of naming rights sponsor Downer, said: "We are looking forward to another wonderful weekend of exciting rugby league and outstanding entertainment in Auckland and I am sure tickets will sell quickly."
NRL chief execuitve Todd Greenberg said the tournament would once again be a fitting way to kick the calendar season off.
"Nines is a celebration of some of the best of rugby league," Mr Greenberg said.
"The weekend is all about the colour of our clubs and our fans and the incredible athleticism of our players. I'm sure the 2017 version will once again be a rolling highlights reel."
Tickets can be purchased now via Ticketek at www.ticketek.co.nz/nines