Success Of Auckland Nines Could Accelerate The Growth Of Privately Run Clubs
National Rugby League side New Zealand Warriors co-Owner Eric Watson "believes the success of the Nines in Auckland could accelerate the growth of privately run clubs in the premiership, but he doesn't believe the NRL should consider two bids from Wellington for a second New Zealand franchise until his Auckland-based team wins a grand final," according to Brad Walter of the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD. A consortium involving the Wellington Rugby League "is ready to submit a proposal for an NRL team and Fairfax Media reported on Sunday that a second group, based in Australia with Kiwi investors, is considering lobbying for a licence to play out of Westpac Stadium." Watson said, "The New Zealand Warriors have a long way to go and a lot of opportunity, we haven't won an NRL yet. I'd look at another team maybe when we've won a couple of NRLs, let's get that under our belt first" (SMH, 2/16). In Sydney, Brent Read reported Watson has given the new-look NRL and its CEO Dave Smith "a rousing endorsement and suggested there could come a time when every club in the premiership is privately owned." Watson said that in his 13 years in charge of the Warriors "he had never encountered such a spirit of unity within the code." He was also "effusive in his praise of Smith." He said, "Highly impressed and I don't say that lightly. He is very commercial, very focused and a good communicator. I think he is a top-stage CEO. When you have dysfunctionality at any level it makes life difficult" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 2/17). FAIRFAX NZ NEWS' Matt Stewart reported Auckland "could hold a few lessons for the annual Wellington Sevens event." Marty Donoghue, the GM of the sevens, spent the weekend at the inaugural Auckland Nines rugby league tournament, and said afterwards that "the success up north could help the sevens reinvent itself." Auckland -- long rumored to have an eye on poaching the sevens from the capital -- "has secured the league event for five years, which could be positive for Wellington retaining its showcase event." Donoghue attended the first day of the nines on Saturday and said that organizers "had done a good job in producing an 'outstanding' event." He said, "Those guys really understand who their customers are and it's a really broad base, but the one thing people had in common was a passion for rugby league" (FAIRFAX NZ NEWS, 2/17).
A THREAT TO SEVENS: In Sydney, Bret Harris reported former Australian Rugby League CEO John O'Neill "has warned the spectacular success of rugby league's Auckland Nines poses a real threat to rugby sevens." O'Neill said that the Auckland Nines "should be a cause for concern to rugby administrators on both sides of the Tasman." He said, "I'm sure the success of the Auckland Nines has not gone unnoticed. The nines should have alarm bells ringing." O'Neill said that rugby "should be concerned about rugby league pushing for the nine-a-side game to be admitted to the Commonwealth Games" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 2/17). Also in Sydney, David Riccio wrote "the undeniable success of the Auckland Nines has changed the rugby league landscape forever." It "was a carnival of high-powered rugby league skill and athleticism, a celebration and an advertisement that will leave a footprint in New Zealand long after the yellow five-point try paint has been removed from Eden Park." Bulldogs, Sharks, Warriors and Tigers merchandise "all sold out" before midday Saturday. An NRL official said, "It’s like something we’ve never seen before" (DAILY TELEGRAPH, 2/16). In Sydney, Read wrote in a separate piece the NRL "will sit down this week to work out the schedule for next season amid a growing clamour from players to include the Indigenous All Stars game as part of a two-week grand final celebration." The All Stars game, which was put on hold this year to accommodate the World Cup and the nines, "is certain to return next season, although finding a suitable date for the game is the challenge." The other issue for the NRL "is finding a hole for the World Club Challenge" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 2/17). Also in Sydney, Michael Chammas reported "the idea of stretching grand final week into a two-week preparation has already been floated by Indigenous All Stars playmaker Johnathan Thurston." The NFL Pro Bowl, which includes players not involved in the Super Bowl, "is played a week before the showpiece event." It is understood Thurston "isn't the only player who is behind the concept, with players across several clubs backing the idea of playing the All Stars in October" (SMH, 2/16). In Brisbane, Walter & Lane wrote the NRL "is set to become the first governing sports body in Australia to test for prescription drugs and may also appoint independent doctors at matches to assess players for concussion." A final decision "on whether they are implemented will be made before the start of the season but the league is already preparing to take over testing of illicit substances from clubs" (BRISBANE TIMES, 2/14).