For the past few seasons now, the NRL has kicked off the year with the highly entertaining Auckland Nines competition. It’s a great concept that draws in plenty of fans, particularly new ones. But like any good new idea, it has its detractors.
People like Phil Gould, and club bosses at Penrith and Wests Tigers have publicly come out saying it’s a pointless contest that runs the risk of injuring players for no reason.
And while they do make a fleetingly valid point, they don’t realise the stupidity of their remarks.
If they are concerned about players getting injured, then why even play the game? You don’t win any prizes for winning any games during the year except the Grand Final. They may as well apply the same logic to Round 1 of the premiership, given you win no prizes for winning there – especially when of the 19 premiers since 1998, nine lost their Round 1 clash.
If clubs start sooking about players getting injured in a promotional tournament, then it’s no wonder we have a situation where the international game has become laughable. Sure, no one wants their players to get injured, but it’s a body contact sport and casualties are inevitable.
A player who gets injured at the Nines is justification for these types to cancel the competition, but someone like Roger Tuivasa-Scheck, who gets a season ending injury in Round 7, is labelled as unfortunate. Give me a break.
This attitude is deplorable and is holding our game back. Gould and his likeminded contemporaries are the anchor that prevents this game from growing and expanding its horizons, drawing in new crowds, spreading the game to new regions.
All of this improves the game financially and improves the quantity and quality of players at the disposal of NRL clubs. But instead, the NRL clubs want to run the game in whatever manner suits their immediate interests.
This short-sighted approach has lead us down this path where we no longer have Kangaroo Tours or three-match Test series against other nations. Hell, Australia doesn’t even play Tests against sides other than England and New Zealand unless it’s a one off in the Four Nations or the World Cup.
How are emerging nations expected to get better and grow if the developed sides don’t care about their development?
We have masses of Tongan, Fijian, Samoan, Maori and even Papua New Guinean players taking the game up and making a name for themselves in the NRL. Yet still our national side won’t play them in one-off Tests at the very least, because they are supposedly pointless and players could get injured.
Australia still has yet to play a game against Tonga or the Cook Islands.
The argument that the season is too long and players might get injured is pathetic, but also damaging to the game. The premiership season today is only two games more than back in 1990. That year also had a three-match State of Origin series, a City v Country game, one-off Tests against France and New Zealand, and the Sevens tournament and knockout Challenge Cup in regional Australia at the start of the season. The code’s elite also managed an 18-game Kangaroo tour at the end of the year to England and France.
And the two teams in the pre-season Cup final of that competition ended up facing each other in the grand final at the end of the year.
Even comparing the number of games played by the Australian Test captains in 1990 and 2016, Mal Meninga played five games more than Cameron Smith in 2016. Both players reached the grand final for their respective sides, with Smith playing 26 club games and Meninga 24. Smith played in all three State of Origin matches while Meninga only played in two games. Meninga played seven Tests while Smith played six. The difference came in that Meninga also appeared in seven other games on the 1990 Kangaroo Tour. Meninga also appeared in games during the Challenge Cup competition, including the final.
The fact is, players can play in a Nines competition, and Kangaroo Tours, and an extra one-off Test and play in the City v Country game (when the best sides were chosen, not the Mickey Mouse selections nowadays). Players in the UK Super League play more club games in a season than our rep players play in a year if they remain fully fit, never miss a game and reach the grand final.
The season isn’t too long, the players do not play too many games and a concept like that Nines should not be retained, but expanded. Incorporate the All Stars and Indigenous sides into it. Even throw in the Super League sides and some emerging nations.
This game was built on its ability to self-promote and to take the game to new horizons without fear. The Nines is the rekindling of that ideology and it is brilliant. It should be nurtured and expanded for the better of the game.
****This article appeared on Commentary Box Sports website on February 7, 2017****