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The NRL has today launched a pre-season nine-a-side tournament that will provide an exciting new format to showcase the skills of Rugby Leagues biggest stars and provide unprecedented opportunities to grow the game in New Zealand.

The inaugural NRL Auckland Nines will take place on February 15-16 in 2014 at Eden Park with all 16 NRL clubs to compete for a prize pool exceeding $2 million.

The NRL, Auckland Council, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) and Duco Events today announced an initial five-year partnership.

This is a fantastic opportunity to grow our game and for our clubs and players to share in a significant new investment in Rugby League, said NRL CEO, Mr Dave Smith.

It is an exciting format that will attract new fans and television audiences and it provides a stage for rising stars to emerge and showcase their skills alongside the biggest names in our game.

I want to thank Auckland Council, ATEED and tournament promoter Duco Events for their support in the creation of the Nines, which will become a celebrated feature of the NRLs pre-season for years to come.

Under the tournament format, the 16 NRL clubs will be divided into four Team Pools with each team to compete against each opponent from within their pool.

The top two teams from each pool progress to the next stage of the tournament.

Matches will be played over two nine-minute halves (18 minute matches) with the NRLs Competition Committee to develop specific rules for the Nines tournament.

Make no mistake, the 16 teams will be there to win, NRL Head of Football, Mr Todd Greenberg, said today.

Clubs have already started making their plans for camps and trials in New Zealand to make sure they have the best possible build-up to the Nines.

Its a unique style of play and it will really showcase the skills of our players.

There is certainly a lucrative prize on offer for the winner and once the teams take the field everyone will see just how determined they will be to perform well and win the inaugural Nines crown.

Todays announcement in Sydney corresponded with a simultaneous event launch in Auckland with the event set to become New Zealands biggest annual sporting festival.

The NRL Auckland Nines will become a hotly contested pre-season event and a great spectacle for sport fans, Auckland Mayor Len Brown said at the Eden Park launch.

This is unprecedented. Never before in the games history have all 16 NRL clubs played in one place on one weekend.

In a sign of their commitment to the event, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Developments five-year sponsorship of $9 million is one of its largest ever investments from the Major Events Fund since New Zealand hosted the Rugby World Cup in 2011.

Ms Rachael Carroll, ATEED General Manager Destination, said todays much-anticipated announcement followed an 18-month feasibility assessment conducted by ATEED and involving the NRL, New Zealand Rugby League and Duco Events the event organiser and underwriter.

The NRL Auckland Nines stacks up very well against Aucklands Major Events strategy criteria as an anchor event for Auckland, Ms Carroll said.

These are events that will generate significant international exposure, economic impact and visitor numbers over the contract term.

Independent economic consultants Covec estimate the tournament will result in an additional 32,800 visitor nights in 2014, rising to more than 43,000 in the tournaments fifth year.

The economic injection for Auckland has been estimated as $3.8 million in 2014, rising to $6.8 million in year five.

Hosting the NRL Auckland Nines will greatly enhance the profile of Rugby League in New Zealand and will leave lasting legacies for Auckland, Ms Carroll said.

We believe David Higgins and his team at Duco Events will provide the X factor to make this an entertaining and wonderful spectacle for all sports fans.

NRL players and officials today added their support for the NRL Auckland Nines.

Were thrilled about having the NRL Auckland Nines at Eden Park and were excited about being able to throw our total support behind what will be the biggest Rugby League event ever staged in this country, Warriors CEO Wayne Scurrah said.

This is a fantastic opportunity not just for Eden Park and Auckland but for the whole country. Having all 16 clubs and hundreds of the games players here at the one time is a first for the NRL and will be a tremendous way to build up to the 2014 NRL season.

Newcastle Knights coach Wayne Bennett said: The NRL Auckland Nines is going to be a great celebration of rugby league and the Knights cant wait to be a part of that.

Origin coaches Mal Meninga and Laurie Daley also threw their support behind the concept.

Its going to be huge 100,000 people over two days at Eden Park. It will be sensational. The Nines will be our advertisement for Rugby League around the world, Meninga said.

Daley added: A lot of players who take part will be some of the best players in the NRL but also some of the exciting young talent coming through our system. It will be a wonderful spectacle and hopefully everyone in New Zealand gets along to support it because theyll see some great football played.
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