Cash-strapped Cronulla eye Nines prize money
Cash-strapped Cronulla admit the lure of a half-million-dollar bonanza is giving the Sharks extra incentive to take out the inaugural Auckland Nines rugby league tournament.
The NRL on Thursday launched the event and Sharks playmaker Todd Carney said the massive prize money on offer on February 15 and 16 had his beleaguered club treating the tournament very, very seriously.
The Sharks are still without a major sponsor and have the spectre of a $1 million fine hanging over them as punishment for their 2011 supplements program.
All up, $2.5 million will be up for grabs in Auckland with all clubs guaranteed $100,000 for playing and the winners to bank a whopping $400,000 bonus.
Should the Sharks triumph, they would collect a total of $500,000 - almost five times the carrot offered for capturing the NRL minor premiership.
"The prize money, it's quite appealing and, as a club that sort of needs some money, we'll definitely be putting our best football in," Carney said.
"Like everyone, it's in our nature to win and that's what we try and do every week and it'll be no different at the Nines.
"We'll bring our best side."
With extra points awarded for tries scored from the "bonus zone" and countless other rule tweaks to be applied for the dynamic Nines format, Carney said his Cronulla outfit would travel to Christchurch a week earlier to adjust.
"Every team will have a different approach to it," he said.
"A lot won't change too much with the way the ball is getting around but teams will have trick plays and I'm sure everyone will have someone in at training teaching them the tricks and different ways they can approach the game.
"The best thing is it's going to be fast and exciting. It's going to be a good time of the year. Everyone will be at peak fitness in February."
League fans will have waited 17 years since the last nine-a-side tournament was held, in Townsville in 1997.
"It's been a while since we've had this sort of tournament in our game and I think it's long overdue and it's going to be an exciting brand of footy," said Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah.
Gold Coast star Greg Bird is tipping the teams with the biggest and fastest players to battle it out for the title.
"Thirteen players struggle to stop Greg Inglis. I don't know how he'll go against nine," Bird said.
"Blokes like Sammy Burgess and big Dave Taylor for us, blokes who are a bit mobile and big and who can do a bit of tackling in the middle and find some space for the backs, they could prove the turning point."