NRL keen to carry on with Nines momentum

DIVINE NINES: NRL players pose with the Auckland Nines trophy during the NRL Nines jersey launch in Sydney in January.
DIVINE NINES: NRL players pose with the Auckland Nines trophy during the NRL Nines jersey launch in Sydney in January.

The NRL believes the Nines concept could to evolve into a six-week summer competition that would rival the Big Bash League and open doors to play a hybrid game.

Fairfax Media understands the NRL is keen to explore all possibilities surrounding the Nines concept in a bid to expand the game, with a summer competition at the forefront of its thinking.

NRL visionary and chief operating officer Jim Doyle, who was one of the major backers behind the Nines initiative, is adamant the shortened format of the game will build the profile of the 13-man game on a global scale.

Although the NRL is in no rush to fast-track the development of the Nines game, which comes to Eden Park next weekend, there are already plans to cash in on the up-tempo version of rugby league which could revolutionise the sport and have a similar impact that Twenty20 has had on cricket.

"I feel [Nines] has got a lot more legs than just a weekend," Doyle told Fairfax Media.

"I think, that if it's done properly, there's no reason why in the future it couldn't be potentially something that is played in the summer. I always had the thought that maybe start in the middle of January when you only have cricket and soccer on TV.

"You could actually have a six-week programme where you are playing in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and finish it off in Auckland, for example. I felt that if you can get it in the right period, you could probably go to the broadcasters and get good money to put a series on."

Doyle, the former chief executive of the NZRL, is a firm believer in league's potential in New Zealand.

But tapping into that potential could involve a partnership with rugby union.

The possibility of a hybrid league-union game is a tantalising prospect and would be a profitable venture for both governing bodies, but formulating rules and finding the right time to host the ground-breaking concept has proved a stumbling block.

Doyle has long wanted to build a hybrid game, and believes the Nines could open the door to seeing the best players from both codes on the same field.

"When I was the CEO of NZRL, one of the visions I had was to try and introduce sevens to league," he said.

"My thinking was that if ever we were going to have a challenge between the Kiwis and the All Blacks, you could only really do it in sevens. This concept of playing one half rugby union and one half rugby league, you'd never get the All Blacks and the Kiwis to do that.

"But I thought to myself, why wouldn't we get a sevens and get a kiwi team with Shaun Johnson and Benji Marshall and Dan Carter all on the same team. The concept of the Nines keeps that alive."

The Auckland Nines is locked in as part of the NRL calendar for the next five years, but Doyle doesn't believe the tournament will always have to rely on superstars to maintain interest.

Just like the Big Bash and Indian Premier League in cricket, Doyle is adamant the Nines could increase the longevity of players and see the introduction of specialist Nines players.

"It can also be a place of some of the younger guys on their way up to make a name for themselves before they step into the 13-man, 80-minute game. I just think it has massive potential."