Auckland Nines may be shelved next year due to Rugby League World Cup
The Auckland Nines could be missing from the calendar next year as the event's promoters and the NRL wrestle with how to fit it into an off-season schedule that includes the World Cup.
The possibility of a venue change in 2018 was raised after poor crowds attended the tournament in February but Fairfax Media has learnt it's increasingly likely that it won't go ahead at all.
The primary reason is concern over the workload of players, particularly those who compete in the World Cup, to be run in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea from October 27 to December 2.
The All Stars game has already been removed temporarily from the calendar, meaning that if the Nines does not go ahead the pre-season will feature only the World Club Series and trial games.
Promoters Duco Events, whose contract with the NRL and the Auckland Council's tourism arm runs until next year, confirmed on Monday that a full feasibility assessment on a 2018 tournament was under way due to the "challenges with the Rugby League World Cup".
"We're having a good, hard look at it and working between the three parties – Duco, the NRL and Auckland Council," Duco Events Australia chief executive Rachael Carroll said.
"We're yet to even, between the three parties, reach a determination on how it could go ahead. Any decision around the tournament in 2018 is a three-way decision."
One scenario is that, like the All Stars match, the Nines could be absent from the next pre-season but return in following years. When asked, Duco would not confirm whether the weekend tournament would be held in 2018 but described the Nines as "a critically important event".
"Certainly the advice we've received is it's very important on the NRL's calendar and will be in the future," Carroll said.
Duco executives are furiously preparing for the Jeff Horn-Manny Pacquiao fight on July 2 at Suncorp Stadium but there has been a split in the promoter's own camp. Directors Dean Lonergan and David Higgins announced last month they were splitting their business interests.
Carroll was adamant on Monday that development was unrelated to uncertainty about the 2018 Nines.
There have previously been suggestions the Nines could be switched to another location, possibly Perth, next year after the deflating attendance figures in February.
However, Carroll confirmed that if it was to take place next year it would be at Eden Park in Auckland again.
An NRL spokesman said on Monday no final decision had been made on next year's tournament.
"We're in discussions with Duco about next year's Nines tournament," the spokesman said. "Those talks are ongoing."