There are just three days until rugby league returns, with the 2016 Downer NRL Auckland Nines set to kick off this Saturday, February 6.
The Dyldam Parramatta Eels will take on the Sydney Roosters, Melbourne Storm and reigning champions the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the Waiheke pool for their opening three Round matches before the Quarter Finals get underway on day two.
The Waiheke pool shapes up to be one of the most entertaining pools of the tournament, with the Eels, Roosters and Rabbitohs making up three of the semi finalists in last year’s tournament.
We take a look at the Blue and Gold’s opposition below.
The Melbourne Storm have plenty to prove in the Auckland Nines format this year, after being knocked out in the pool stages in the past two years. The Storm will be without their ‘Big Three’ in Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith, but have plenty of young talents coming through the ranks with speedsters Young Tonumaipea, Cameron Munster and Marika Koroibete.
Captained by half Blake Green, the Storm outfit will also look to Kiwi international Tohu Harris to set a platform in the middle of the ruck and be a leader in the relatively young side.
The Eels will play their first game of the Auckland Nines against Storm at 12:55pm (NZST).
Squad: 1. Curtis Scott, 2. Young Tonumaipea, 3. Richie Kennar, 4. Cameron Munster, 5. Marika Koriobete, 6. Blake Green (c), 7. Brodie Croft, 8. Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 9. Ben Hampton, 10. Mark Nicholls, 11. Kenny Bromwich, 12. Tohu Harris, 13. Dale Funicane, 14. Nafe Seluini, 15. Jeremy Hawkins, 16. Dean Britt, 17. Joe Stimson, 18. Tony Tumusa.
Last year’s semi-finalists, the Roosters will be looking for another strong showing. The tri-colours feature Daniel Tupou, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Isaac Liu and Brendan Elliot who all have first grade and Auckland Nines experience whilst young Latrell Mitchell and new English recruit Joe Burgess will be looking to impress in the backline.
The tri-colours also welcome back former Rooster captain Braith Anasta who will lead the side. Retiring 2014, the half will be the Roosters most capped player, playing 288 first grade games over his 15-year career.
The Eels will play the Roosters in their second game of the opening day, with kick off at 4:25pm (NZST).
Squad 1. Latrell Mitchell, 2. Daniel Tupou, 3. Brendan Elliot, 4. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 5. Joe Burgess, 6. Braith Anasta (c), 7. Tyler Cornish, 8. Isaac Liu, 9. Ian Henderson, 10. Abraham Papalii, 11. Vincent Leuluai, 12. Eloni Vunakece, 13. Nat Butcher, 14. Connor Watson, 15. Joseph Manu, 16. Nathan Smith, 17. Joey Lussick, 18. Omar Slaimankhel.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
The reigning premiers, and the Blue and Gold’s final opponents in the pool stage.
Undefeated in last year’s competition, the Rabbitohs will enter the weekend with plenty of confidence. Led by skipper John Sutton, the Rabbitohs feature a highly experienced squad with plenty of first grade experience (Alex Johnston, Michael Oldfield, Bryson Goodwin, Cameron McInnes, Damien Cook, Thomas Burgess, Kyle Turner, Jason Clark, Paul Carter, Chris Grevsmuhl, Kirisome Auvaa and Hymel Hunt).
The Eels will play the Rabbitohs to kick off Day Two of the competition, kick off at 11:00am (NZST).
Squad: 1. Alex Johnston, 2. Michael Oldfield, 3. Bryson Goodwin, 4. Ed Murphy, 5. Cameron McInnes, 6. Cody Walker, 7. Damien Cook, 8. John Sutton,9. Thomas Burgess, 10. Kyle Turner, 11. Jason Clark, 12. Paul Carter, 13. Chris Grevsmuhl, 14. John Olive, 15. Kirisome Auvaá, 16. Hymel Hunt, 17. Jack Gosiewski, 18. Zane Musgrove.