14 Jul 2017

Auckland league community disappointed to lose NRL Nines

9:23 am on 14 July 2017

Auckland's rugby league community is disappointed the NRL Nines is likely to head across the ditch.

The tournament's organiser Duco has acknowledged ticket sales had dropped from the sell-out crowds it saw in the first few years.

Tournament organiser Duco has acknowledged ticket sales have dropped over the years. Photo: Photosport

After four years the NRL has confirmed the tournament is being suspended next year as players come off the back of the Rugby League World Cup.

The organisation also said it would be giving Australian cities a chance to host when it returns.

Darrell Woodhouse from the Manurewa Rugby League club has worked as a liaison for the Melbourne Storm at the Nines tournament every year so far.

Last year, three of the Australian teams went to his club, which has 50 teams, to sign autographs and inspire young players.

"To be able to have children seeing their childhood heroes on a footy field here in New Zealand, it's a sad day if that [change] has happened for rugby league in general all over the country.

"I know people who've come from far and wide to join the Nines and spend the weekend."

The general manager of Auckland's rugby league body, Greg Whaiapu, said he was disappointed it was no longer Auckland's tournament.

"It's been a bit of a lifeline for rugby league in Auckland and for all the followers of the game as well. It sort of re-invigorated the game and to have the opportunity to have all the NRL stars turning up and playing has been a sort of bonus for rugby league itself in terms of profile."

Sir Peter Leitch, the Mad Butcher and league ambassador, also said it would be sad for the sport when the tournament left, however he said there was still interest in it.

"Last year it wasn't the case, we didn't get the numbers. I think there is [interest] but look it won't hurt to move it around."

Nines

Photo: RNZ

Auckland's Tourism body ATEED, said over the past four years the tournament had added almost $30 million into its regional economy.

The tournament's organiser, Duco, acknowledged ticket sales had however dropped from the sell-out crowds it saw in the first few years.

Its chief executive, Rachael Carroll, said that was considered in the move to give Australian cities a go.

"I think what's exciting about the NRL nines is, yup, there might be an opportunity where it goes to an Australian city for one, two years and then return to Auckland. And the interest will go back up. So I think it's really important that you're always assessing how events are being responded to by the market and that you keep them fresh."

One concern in the past has been the absence of popular star players, with most teams saving their big-name players for the NRL season.

The NRL suspended next year's tournament saying it just wasn't viable to expect players to take the field so soon after the World Cup.

In February, Duo's Dean Lonergan pointed the finger at the Warriors for the dented crowd size with their poor season and putting forward a lacklustre team.

"We'll put our hand up and say we expected more support out of the Warriors, but you know, this event, it's a great event and I think if it does go to an Australian city in the future those Aussies will embrace it and I think Kiwis will take it as a chance to go over to Australia for a weekend and still enjoy the Nines," Ms Carroll said.

Rachael Carroll expects an announcement mid-way through next year after the NRL heard from other interested cities.

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