Nine for the Nines
With the recent announcement of the new rules being introduced for the NRL Auckland Nine's in 2014, NSWRL Media takes a look at Nine players who we believe could make an impact at Eden Park in February, 2014.
Eto Nabuli - Penrith Panthers Spotted by Brad Fittler and Andrew Johns whilst working as a luggage porter in Fiji, Nabuli was a sensation in his first year of playing rugby league; finishing as the leading try scorer in the VB NSW Cup with an astonishing 30 tries in 26 games. With an abundance of pace and acceleration, the Nines format is perfectly suited for the Fijian flyer to wreak havoc on the opposition.
Taqele Naiyaravaro - Wests Tigers Weighing in at 117 kilos and 190.5 centimeters, the young Wests Tigers giant produced a season that would have made Jonah Lomu proud. After carving a trail of destruction through opposition defences, scoring 23 tries in 15 games, Naiyaravaros season was cut short after suffering an ankle injury in the VB NSW Cup Representative Teams victory over Queensland. With a full off-season under his belt, Wests Tigers Coach Mick Potter could be tempted to unleash the beast in Auckland. Good luck to anyone standing between him and the tryline.
Tyrone Peachey - Penrith Panthers With a number of stunning individual performances throughout the 2013 finals series, Peachey displayed his ability to single-handedly turn a game with a moment of brilliance. Weighing only 87 kilograms, the second-rower/lock has the speed and agility to trouble defences around the ruck and his clever ball-playing gives him the ability to slot into five-eighth with ease. With reduced numbers in the defensive line, Peacheys back of tricks may come in handy for new Coach Ivan Cleary.
Peta Hiku - Manly Warringah Sea Eagles After being called upon by Geoff Toovey to cover for injured Sea Eagles duo David Williams and Brett Stewart, 20-year-old Hiku fast developed a reputation as one of the most exciting young players in the game. In his 12 NRL games in 2013, Hiku combined an impressive 143.3 meters per game with 42 tackle breaks, 7 line breaks and 12 offloads. With size, footwork and speed, Hiku is perfectly suited to the athletic demands of Nines football.
Damien Cook - Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Having begun the season as the Illawarra Cutters hooker, Cook finished the season as arguably the form fullback of the VB NSW Cup. An incredibly versatile player with deceptive speed and solid defence, Cook has made the move to Belmore in the off season and will be out to push his claims for the fullback spot recently vacated by Ben Barba, but at worst, Cook could prove to be a great utility player for the Dogs in 2014.
Nathan Gardner - Cronulla Sharks One of the major players in the Sharks drive to the 2013 VB NSW Cup Premiership, Gardner has an innate ability to score tries out of the most unusual circumstances. Whether its pin-balling through the ruck and finding himself flying out the other side or scooping a ball off the ground with his fingertips, Gardner is an opportunistic player who plays well above his weight. With 41 NRL games under his belt, the live wire fullback has the experience and confidence to make an impact in Nines football.
Justin Hunt - Parramatta Eels With an ability to cover any position in the back-line combined with blistering speed and athletic ability, Hunt has the potential to cause major headaches for opposition Coaches in the inaugural Nines tournament. Having joined Parramatta from North Sydney in the off-season, the prospect of Hayne, Hopoate and Hunt lining up in Auckland should give Parramatta fans something to smile about after the long winter of 2013.
Ngani Laumape - New Zealand Warriors As a specialist winger, Ngani Laumape is blessed with all the attributes that make him an excellent prospect for Nines football. With size, speed and agility; Laumape had a breakthrough season in 2013 and combined his strong performances for the Auckland Vulcans with 14 NRL appearances. The thought of him lining up alongside Konrad Hurrell should have opposition defences afraid very afraid.
Sam Williams - St George Illawarra Dragons After signing with the Dragons for the 2014 season, Williams may be in line to make the Auckland Nines his debut in the famous red V. A clever play-maker with a deft passing and kicking game, the possibility of Williams lining up alongside English International Gareth Widdop should see the Dragons make a competitive statement in Nines football. After earning representative honours in the VB NSW Cup Representative Team, Williams will be looking to start strongly in 2014.