With the Auckland Nines quite literally around the corner and all the teams named, there is no better time to do a preview than now.
The first competition of this nature for the NRL in quite some time, you can feel the excitement in the air for players, fans and clubs, in what promises to be an electrifying tournament in both atmosphere and footy.
So, as we approach the tournament, here is the first of two previews of the Nines tournament – it will be split intp two parts, 8 teams in each part.
Firstly, the team will be shown, followed by a brief description of the player/s to look out for and how the team as a whole shapes up in relation to the entire competition.
Without further adieu, here we go:
Brisbane Broncos: 1. Ben Barba 2. Josh Hoffman 3. Dale Copley 4. Alex Glenn 5. Stewart Mills 6. Kodi Nikorima 7. Ben Hunt 8. Martin Kennedy 9. Andrew McCullough (C) 10. Sam Thaiday 11. Matt Gillett 12. Jordan Drew 13. Corey Parker (C)
Interchange: 14. David Stagg 15. Todd Lowrie 16. Zach Strasser 17. Jo Ofahengaue 18. Jake Granville.
Ricky’s view: Without a doubt, the Broncos have made their intentions clear from the get go and have named one of the strongest squads for the competition. Powerhouse rep players like Parker, Thaiday and Glenn have all been named and with the scintillating Ben Barba at the back, this format suits him perfectly as he looks to make his mark early as a Brisbane player. One of the teams to beat. One player to keep an eye out for is Kodi Nikorima. A talented and versatile half, Nikorima has all the tools to succeed and is highly rated by many Broncos fans. This is his chance to shine and cement a potential first-grade spot in future.
Canberra Raiders: Jarrod Croker (C), Reece Robinson, Mitch Cornish, Bill Tupou, Matt McIlwrick, Glen Buttriss, Joel Edwards, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Jarrad Kennedy, Lagi Setu, Mark Nicholls, Jake Foster, Mitch Cronin, Luke Bateman, Jack Ahearn and Andrew Heffernan.
Ricky’s view: An interesting team overall. Whilst not one of the strongest sides named, it certainly isn’t one of the weakest either. That said, the clear emphasis is predominantly on youth by coach Ricky Stuart, with the likes of Cornish, McIlwrick, Cronin, Ahearn and Heffernan all named. Rounding out the squad is some experience in Croker and Robinson. Overall, they have a handy side, but you would imagine progression to the next round is just out of their reach. The biggest surprise, though? No Anthony Milford. This format suits his game to the tee. One player to watch is Jack Ahearn. Able to make create try assists and line-break assists for fun, he is coming off a stellar season in the NYC in 2013 and with a chance emerging to play first-grade in a couple of years, he is the sort of player that will take it.
Canterbury Bulldogs: 1. Sam Perrett 2. Mitch Brown 3. Chase Stanley 4. Tyrone Phillips 5. Tom Murphy 6. Moses Mbye 7. Drury Low 8. Tim Browne 9. Mick Ennis (C) 10. Dale Finucane 11. Josh Jackson 12. Tony Williams 13. Pat O’Hanlon 14. Lachlan Burr 15. Corey Thompson 16. Lloyd Perrett.
Ricky’s view: Looking at the Dogs squad, the one thing you notice off the bat is the lack of big boppers in the middle. The likes of Kasiano, Graham and Pritchard who have had success at NRL level in barging forward, are not named. With a lot of fringe players and young players named, their hopes lie in the experience of Perrett, Brown, Jackson and captain Mick Ennis. Not a terrible squad overall, but not as strong as some other sides. A key player to watch for the Dogs, is Lloyd Perrett. You want size, speed and aggression in a forward? Well, Perrett has it all. He bulldozed over opposition defenders for fun and if teams are not careful, he will do the same in the Nines competition.
Cronulla Sharks: Nathan Gardner, Nathan Stapleton, Blaye Ayshford, Jonathan Wright, Sosaia Feki, Todd Carney, Daniel Holdsworth, Andrew Fifita, Michael Lichaa, Sam Tagataese, Wade Graham, Matt Prior, Paul Gallen, Ricky Leutele, Tupou Sopoaga and Fa’amanu Brown.
Ricky’s View: Another team that has named a powerhouse squad. Almost immediately, names like Carney, Fifita, Gallen and Graham stand out and when you mix players of that calibre with youngsters in Lichaa, Brown and Sopoaga, it can be a recipe for success. With a healthy mix of youth and experience across the board, it is no wonder the Sharks are emerging as a favourite for the tournament in the eyes of many. One player to watch for the Sharks, is young hooker Michael Lichaa. Hot on the heels of a first-grade spot, Lichaa’s performances in the NYC have been nothing short of remarkable. He creates like a half and hits holes like a back-rower, making him a potent offensive weapon from dummy half. With the pressure on Morris and De Gois, it might only be a matter of time before Lichaa makes the top grade.
Gold Coast Titans: Will Zillman, Brad Tighe, David Mead, Kevin Gordon, Albert Kelly, Greg Bird, Ash Harrison, Anthony Don, Paul Carter, Kalifa Fai Fai Loa, Brad Takairangi, Mark Minichiello, Maurice Blair, Luke Bailey, Siuatonga Likiliki and David Taylor.
Ricky’s View: Another very experienced side and with the Titans having something to prove in 2014, the Nines competition marks a perfect opportunity for some of the more senior players to lead the young bucks around. Bird, Mead, Kelly, Bailey and Harrison spearhead the veteran brigade, with a couple of youngsters in Carter and Likiliki keen to impress. The Titans are a team that can go places in this competition and they will be up for the fight. A player to watch for the Titans is Paul Carter. Usually at home in the back-row and excelling in that position at NYC and NSW Cup level, a recent move to hooker has seen Carter impress coach John Cartwright early on. With uncertainty over the hooker position due to injury and Carter making his presence felt, he will be looking to have a solid outing at the Nines tournament to make his case for first-grade.
Manly Sea Eagles: Cheyse Blair, Jamie Buhrer, Michael Chee-Kam, Daly Cherry-Evans, Clinton Gutherson, James Hasson, Peta Hiku, Justin Horo, Jack Littlejohn, Steve Menzies, Ligi Sao, Tony Satini, Jesse Sene-Lefao, Tom Symonds, Jorge Taufua and David Williams.
Ricky’s View: In the scheme of things, the side is not too bad, though it isn’t up there in the elite category of named teams. Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Manly side comes in the form of legend Steve Menzies, who after a lengthy hiatus, dons the Manly jersey once more. Aside from that, the other notable players named include Cherry-Evans, Williams, Horo and Taufua. To make up the squad, there are a few other top 25 players named and some talented youngsters, so whilst it is not the best squad overall, any Manly side is always going to push hard to win. Ligi Sao is the man to watch in this one. With sheer size and power in attack and an opportunity to impress, the former Warriors forward has a point to prove and will look to bullock his way over defenders and create opportunities.
Melbourne Storm: Will Chambers, Sisa Waqa, Joel Romelo, Mahe Fonua, Matt Duffie, Young Tonumaipea, Mitch Garbutt, Tohu Harris, Justin O’Neill, Matthew Lodge, Kevin Proctor, Ryan Hoffman (C), Slade Griffin, Kurt Mann, Cameron Munster, Richie Kennar & Jesse Bromwich.
Ricky’s View: Not one of the Storm’s strongest sides and it resonated with fans, as many cried foul at the fact that the Storm’s big 3 in Smith, Cronk and Slater were not named. With no recognised half off the bat, the hopes for creativity will fall solely on the hands of Joel Romelo. With Ryan Hoffman to lead the side, he goes in with fellow first-graders Chambers, Waqa, Proctor, Bromwich and others, and mixed with some youth, they can potentially upset some teams, though with a lack of halves in the squad, one would see that as unlikely. One player to keep an eye out for at the Storm is Matt Lodge. One of the most consistent props in the NYC last year, Lodge’s ability to sniff out a gap as a forward is tremendous and with a decent skill set across the board to boot, he’ll help to lay the platform for the Storm.
Newcastle Knights: Adam Cuthbertson, Jake Mamo, Dane Gagai, Joseph Leilua, Akuila Uate, Jarrod Mullen, Tyrone Roberts, Willie Mason, Adam Clydsdale, Chris Houston, Beau Scott, Robbie Rochow, Jeremy Smith, Michael Dobson, Alex McKinnon and Zane Tetevano.
Ricky’s View: If you ask me, this is perhaps one of the best three sides named for the competition. Every player except one in Jake Mamo has had first-grade experience and with that many veterans in the side, they will be a tough side to beat. Jarrod Mullen and Michael Dobson are the key, as they are the likely halves pairing and will look to link up with the powerful duo of Joseph Leilua nad Akuila Uate on the fringes.
The Knights team have the potential to go all the way and all the pressure will be on them given the side that is named.
As for the player to watch, that is none other than Jake Mamo. Scoring a hat-trick in the recent trial v the First Nation Goannas, many saw his talents, with the youngster boasting tremendous speed, great awareness and great finishing ability. With some solid performances in this tournament, he will be on the cusp of first-grade stardom.
And with that, marks the end of the first preview. Same time again tomorrow, we will have the second preview up as we look at the remaining 8 teams, assess their teams and chances and pick out the exciting talents to look out for.