Nine key match-ups at the Auckland Nines
The Downer NRL Auckland Nines are set to be unpredictable with little to no structure and heart-stopping end-to-end football, but with fewer players on the field the individual match-ups could prove to be especially vital to your team's chances.
NRL.com have come-up with nine head-to-head battles that could be the difference between advancing out of the pool stage or leaving Auckland early.
Corey Norman v Shaun Johnson: These two playmaking stars thrive in the Nines format and have both been named in the team of the tournament twice. Johnson is side-stepping highlights reel, providing some of the most memorable moments in the tournament's history, while Norman is equally adept at controlling the tempo of the abbreviated format and ripping teams apart. It should be a blockbuster clash between two of the game's most exciting stars.
Benji Marshall v Luke Brooks: It's the former Wests Tigers premiership winning icon against the future of the club. While plenty of water has flowed under the bridge since Marshall left the Tigers, this match-up is still an intriguing collision of the old and the new. Marshall is expected to shine in the Nines format, with his trademark running game seemingly made for the truncated format, while Brooks has shown he is ready to take his game to the proverbial next level.
Anthony Milford v Cameron Munster: Milford has starred since making the transition from fullback to five-eighth and looks set for a big weekend in a strong Broncos outfit, while Munster has thrived in Billy Slater's considerable absence and looks set to make a move to the halves permanently in 2017. These bona-fide superstars should light up the Nines and will be a critical to their team's success in the tournament.
Josh Addo-Carr v Wests Tigers: Josh Addo-Carr is a try scoring machine and could be set for a massive weekend at Eden Park against his former club. Addo-Carr is seen as a like-for-like replacement of Marika Koroibete who left the Storm after also starting his career at the Tigers. Look for the young flyer to have a massive game against his former teammates.
Jarryd Hayne v Jack Bird: It's not an Origin shoot-out, but these two players could well and truly go head-to-head for a centre spot in Laurie Dayley's NSW Blues side later in the year. Bird has established himself as a premiership winning superstar capable of breaking a game wide-open, while Hayne is a two-time Dally M Medallist looking to reclaim his spot atop the rugby league landscape. This could be a cracking contest when the Titans clash with the Sharks.
Kezie Apps v Teuila Fotu-Moala: League legend Darren Lockyer once labelled Kiwi Ferns star Teuila Fotu-Moala as 'the jukebox' because the hits just kept on coming. There is no question she cuts an intimidating figure both in attack and defence and will look to terrorize the Jillaroos. Kezie Apps has been labelled the toughest player in league and had an outstanding 2016 season in which she helped NSW end Queensland's 17-year undefeated streak. It promises to be compulsive viewing and a highlight of the entire weekend.
Tyson Frizell v Marty Taupau: Tyson Frizell had a breakout 2016 season including an incredible performance for NSW and a well-deserved Australian jersey in the Four Nations tournament. The hard-working forward will have a massive challenge up against Manly's Martin Taupau, who will be looking to spearhead his side's Nines campaign. With inexperienced squads, the Dragons and Sea Eagles will be relying on these two to lift their sides to greater heights.
Cody Walker v Blake Austin: With the loss of Adam Reynolds to a hamstring issue, South Sydney's playmaking responsibilities will be left to Cody Walker and it is a situation which should suit the electrifying half. He'll come up against Blake Austin who is tough enough to mark in the 13-a-side format. Whoever comes atop this duel is sure to lead his team to victory.
David Klemmer v everyone: The Bulldogs firebrand will be looking for a big start to the season and he'll be very hard to stop if he gets going. Klemmer is sure to be a focal point of attacking raids with his ability to break the line and make offloads potentially a killer combination for the Dogs as they look to progress out of the pool stage.