The NRL's intention to up its profile in New Zealand has taken a step forward with a ground-breaking "grass roots" initiative around the Auckland Nines tournament.
Auckland mayor Len Brown took a welcome break from politics yesterday to announce the community plan involving all 16 NRL clubs partnering up with Auckland Rugby League clubs for the inaugural tournament at Eden Park on February 15-16.
The mayor revealed a schedule which sees the Gold Coast Titans travelling to the Hibiscus Coast Raiders in the north, the Canterbury Bulldogs to the Pakuranga Jaguars in the east, the Melbourne Storm to the Manurewa Marlins in the south and the North Queensland Cowboys to the Glenora Bears in the west.
The teams competing in the Nines will visit their club during the week of the event.
League ambassador Sir Peter Leitch was happy to learn Ivan Cleary's Penrith Panthers had been chosen as the NRL club to visit his Mangere East Hawks. The Panthers have a host of New Zealand players in their ranks including new signing Elijah Taylor plus Lewis Brown, Isaac John and Dean Whare.
The Storm's trip to the southern-most club chosen for the initiative means Manurewa juniors Jesse and Kenny Bromwich could return to their old club.
The Warruiors have been paired with Marist Saints club which has produced several club players including Motu Tony, Jerome Ropati, Sonny Bill Williams and Roy Asotasi.
This year's NRL champions the Roosters have been paired with their Auckland counterparts at Te Atatu.
"To have the stars of our game at local league grounds is huge for grass roots rugby league and I know the clubs want to provide a unique experience for each team," ARL chairman Dene Biddlecombe said.
Rachael Carroll, the general manager destination and marketing for ATEED (the Super City's events arm), said the Nines would drive huge economic benefits for the city and "become an economic anchor over time".
NRL and ARL pairings and club visit times (all Thursday, Feb 13 unless otherwise stated):
Brisbane Broncos-Point Chevalier Pirates; Walker Park, Point Chevalier, 4.30-6.30pm.
Canberra Raiders-Bay Roskill Vikings; Blockhouse Bay Reserve, Blockhouse Bay, 6-8pm.
Canterbury Bulldogs-Pakuranga Jaguars; Ti Takau Park, Pakuranga, 6.30-8pm.
Cronulla Sharks-Otahuhu Leopards; Bert Henham Park, Mt Wellington, 4-6pm.
Manly Sea Eagles-Richmond Rovers; Grey Lynn Park, Grey Lynn, 5-7pm.
Melbourne Storm-Manurewa Marlins; Mountfort Park, Manurewa, 5-7pm.
Newcastle Knights-Ellerslie Eagles; Ellerslie Domain, Ellerslie, 6-8pm.
North Queensland Cowboys-Glenora Bears; Harold Moody Park, Glen Eden, 4-6pm.
Parramatta Eels-Papatoetoe Panthers; Kohuora Park, Papatoetoe, 4.30-6.30pm.
Penrith Panthers-Mangere East Hawks; Walter Massey Park, Mangere East, 5-7pm.
South Sydney Rabbitohs-Glenfield Greyhounds; Sunnynook Park, Glenfield, 5-7pm.
St George Dragons-Otara Scorpions; Ngati Otara Park, Otara, 4.45-6.45pm.
Sydney Roosters-Te Atatu Roosters; Jack Colvin Park, Te Atatu, 5.30-7.30pm.
Warriors-Marist Saints; Murray Halberg Park, Mount Albert, 4-6pm.
Wests Tigers-Manukau Magpies; Moyle Park, Mangere, 4.30-6.30pm.
Gold Coast Titans-Hibiscus Coast Raiders; Stanmore Bay Park, Stanmore, 4pm-6pm, Wednesday, February 12.
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