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Soward: Nines the perfect platform for fringe players

An unknown talent always seemed to shine when the Nines was played in Auckland and this weekend's tournament in Perth is a golden chance for more fringe players to stand up.

The Nines provides second, third and fourth-string NRL options the platform to showcase their skills on the big stage and potentially move up in the queue for first grade selection.

When I went to the Auckland Nines with Penrith in 2014, we finished top of our pool and had young guys like Will Smith who grew from the experience and went on to debut in the NRL.

Eto Nabuli was another one. He didn't end up playing NRL for the Panthers but he got a start with the Dragons. Now he's doing great things in rugby union and has played for the Wallabies.

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Of the rising stars playing this week, Jamayne Isaako (Broncos), Jaeman Salmon (Eels), Josh Drinkwater (Cowboys), Reuben Garrick (Sea Eagles) and Chanel Harris-Tavita (Warriors) are primed and ready to take the tournament by the scruff of the neck.

They'll all appreciate the wide-open spaces likely to come their way and Harris-Tavita and Drinkwater will both also be looking to create room for those around them.

The team camaraderie built from travelling to Western Australia for the weekend will be invaluable and it also gives younger players a taste of life on the road.

You can train hard all summer but nothing can really replicate playing against another team. Every player taking part this weekend will be wanting Friday to come around as quickly as possible.

It may still be pre-season but the competitive juices will start to flow once the players step onto the field. You lose that novelty factor knowing everyone else wants to win.

Warming up and cooling down constantly and playing several matches close together is taxing, so being part of a winning campaign will require a special effort.

Nines has the vibe of a school footy carnival back in the day, where you're keeping an eye on the other games and catching up with people you've played with and against.

It's a great way to get amongst the rugby league community and gear up for the gruelling 30-week season that will follow.

As for predictions, I'm looking at Parramatta to do really well. They're a team with plenty of speedsters and they'll want to put some of their off-season recruits to work.

North Queensland are another side with genuine pace to watch out for, and I reckon Canberra will surprise a few people too.

I don't think the Warriors can win given they never got the job done when they had Shaun Johnson and the crowd behind them in Auckland, but they may surprise me.

Above all else, hopefully everyone comes through injury-free.