Light-hearted now, but storm clouds approach
The Warriors might be the team most people cheer for at the Auckland Nines this weekend, but judging by the huge crowd at the Civic Reception at Aotea Square yesterday, there will be plenty of support for the other 15 teams.
Broncos and Storm jerseys and flags were the most visible after the Warriors at the event attended by all of the players, but there were also a fair few there to show their support for the Roosters, the current NRL champions.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was one of the players on parade with the Warriors squad yesterday, but the Kiwis wing won't be taking to the field.
However, there were still a few familiar faces in the Roosters sides for the Nines and none more so than Brad Fittler, the 42-year-old who played 31 games for New South Wales and 40 for Australia.
Of course, the 45,000 people at Eden Park over the next few days won't see the Fittler of old, but Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce says there'll still be some flashes of brilliance on display from the veteran.
"He has obviously got a bit older in the legs, but he's good to have around," Pearce told Fairfax Media. "He's like a big kid, pumped to play again. It's exciting to play with him, I never got the change to play with Freddie [Fittler], so to have him in camp adds that bit more excitement."
Even though he's a regular NSW State of Origin player, 24-year-old Pearce says he hopes to learn a lot from playing alongside the veteran.
"I think so for sure," he said. "I certainly try to learn off older people fullstop, they're obviously wiser than you are.
"With each play I try to learn something. Freddie may not have it in the legs anymore, but upstairs he's still got the brains and it will be good to try to get some stuff off him."
There seems to be a light-hearted attitude from all of the Nines players at the moment and while any of the teams would swap winning the Auckland Nines for two NRL competition points, Pearce says the intensity will be there come game time.
"Once you get out there as an NRL player, whether it's at training or in a game, you get competitive," he said.
"So as soon as you get out there everyone will try to get competitive, so everyone will be trying to get over each other and it will turn into a bit of a war.
"I'm looking forward to it," he added.
"It's a great concept, it's something new for everyone, so I can't wait.
"A big test for it will obviously be about how it goes this weekend, but it's got heaps of potential and if the fans enjoy it that will be the big thing.
"The players are always going to do their best and play as well as they can, so it depends how much following it gets and if that's the case I'm sure they'll stick with it."
Meanwhile, Pearce says he expects Tuivasa-Sheck to back up his incredible season last year, where he picked up the NRL's Wing of the Year award and was also one of the star players at the World Cup.
"He is outstanding, he's one of the best I've seen," Pearce said.
"I was impressed with the way he learned stuff. He is a pretty incredible bloke, such a humble guy and he's still only 20. I'm glad we've got him at the Roosters and we need to keep him for as long as we can."