New Zealand is the host with the most in Auckland
WITH speed to burn and power to open up their rivals, New Zealand Warriors look the team to beat in the razzle dazzle Auckland Nines tournament which will showcase some of the NRL's unseen talent, as well as some old faces at Eden Park this weekend.
All 16 NRL clubs will contest the $2.4 million tournament, which puts the emphasis on speed, flair and battling fatigue.
While some of rugby league's biggest names, including Cowboys premiership captain Johnathan Thurston, are missing, there will still be enough explosiveness and skill on show to provide some spectacular plays and tries.
It's hard to go past the Warriors as the likely winners, with bookmakers installing them as $3.75 favourites.
They've got some lightning-quick players in former Roosters sensation Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who will link up with human highlight reel Shaun Johnson, arguably the best exponent of Nines football on the planet with his brilliant footwork, creativity and deception.
Throw in power runners Konrad Hurrell and Solomone Kata, and brilliant youngster Tuimoala Lolohea, and the Warriors bristle with players who can do not just the unexpected, but the unthinkable.
Inaugural Nines winners North Queensland looms as a real threat, even without Thurston.
Coach Paul Green has selected a mixed of youth and experience in his 18-man squad. The roster includes 33-year-old Matt Bowen, who has returned from the Super League, and 19-year-old Gideon Gela-Mosby, considered to have as much talent as the club's favourite son after scoring an NYC record 39 tries for the Cowboys last year.
Green has included 13 members of the team that pipped Brisbane 17-16 in a memorable grand final last October, led by Origin representative Michael Morgan and winger Kyle Feldt who scored the try which set up the club's maiden premiership.
Players who could set the tournament alight include Parramatta's blockbusting Fijian Semi Radradra, Melbourne young guns Cameron Munster and Curtis Scott, Manly duo Tim Moltzen and boom youngster Tom Trbojevic, and Brisbane's Darius Boyd and rookie Carlin Anderson.
Broncos captain Sam Thaiday said the nature of Nines provided the forwards in the team's squad with the opportunity to work on their passing and off-loading skills, which he said would be required more this season with the number of interchanges cut back to eight per game.
Former Wigan flyer Joe Burgess will be another to keep an eye on as he makes his debut for the Roosters.
The 21-year-old has already played three Tests for England, and with 49 tries in 55 games for Wigan is a player who could shine in Auckland.