Auckland Nines event to connect with grassroots
The Auckland Nines will connect NRL clubs with the grassroots of rugby league like never before.
Each of the 15 Australian teams will visit a local club in a ground-breaking initiative that will see players mix and mingle with children and diehard fans. The community venture was announced by Auckland mayor Len Brown at the Manukau Magpies Club in Mangere last week.
The mayor unveiled a schedule that sees clubs across the city hosting teams, including the Gold Coast Titans, who will travel to the Hibiscus Coast Raiders in the north, the Canterbury Bulldogs, who will go 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.
It all happens on February 13, apart from the Titans and the Raiders link-ups, which will happen the day before.
Teams will spend an average of two hours at the clubs.
Brown, a South Aucklander with strong roots in the rugby league community, said the initiative would be great for the children.
"It's for the kids and I think it's so inspirational.
"Meeting the stars coming for the tournament will provide youngsters with a buzz that will have long-lasting benefits in this historic rugby league stronghold," he said.
Auckland Rugby League chairman Dene Biddlecombe is equally enthusiastic.
"This is fundamental," he said.
"It will really give the clubs a period of invigoration in the summer, and it will be great for these players to meet the kids and for the kids to see the players close up.
"I think about it just being around the successes that these players have become.
"It will give the kids motivation to see that, if they stick to the game, or stick with their lifestyle they can become professional footballers."
Manukau Magpies' sports development officer Ngawai Rewha said the club will use the visit to drive registrations for the 2014 season.
"We're going to be going hard-out advertising that we've got the Tigers coming to our club.
"The goal is to pack out our own club. It's going to be a mean experience for our community, not just for our league-crazy fans but also for our schools, for our kids and even other codes who we will be inviting to take part."
Of special interest to the mayor - not to mention Sir Peter Leitch - was the discovery the Penrith Panthers had been chosen as the NRL club to visit the Mangere East Hawks. The clubhouse is around the corner from De La Salle College, where Brown went to school.
That means Mangere East could be playing host to former Warriors coach Ivan Cleary and several New Zealand players, including new signing Elijah Taylor, Lewis Brown, Isaac John and Dean Whare.
The Storm's trip to the southernmost club means former Manurewa juniors Jesse and Kenny Bromwich could return to their old stomping ground.
One of the biggest crowds is likely to show up at Murray Halberg Park when the Warriors pair up with the Marist Saints. Marist have produced a number of Warriors, including Gene Ngamu, Francis Meli, Motu Tony, Jerome Ropati and Bill Tupou plus Kiwis Sonny Bill Williams and Roy Asotasi. The club also provided five players in the Junior Warriors' side for this year's NYC grand final - David Fusitua, Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard, Tuimoala Lolohea, Mason Lino and Michael Sio.
Out west it will be a case of two Roosters clubs uniting when Te Atatu, which produced the brilliant Dennis Williams in the 1970s and 1980s, welcomes 2013 NRL premiers the Sydney Roosters, maybe with SBW as part of their cast of other stars.
Having all 16 NRL clubs in Auckland at the same time is unprecedented, let alone making visits to local clubs en masse as well.
Manukau junior player Te Napi Waipouri, 12, says he can't wait for the day when the Tigers turn up at his club. The Warriors and the Melbourne Storm are his favourite teams but he will take the Tigers, Benji Marshall's former team, he said.
"I'm excited," the fullback for the Manukau Riddlers said.
"I'll be telling all my friends about this."