So, it would appear the NRL Auckland Nines are no longer, with the event slated to move across the Tasman. And, according to Duco Events’ Dean Lonergan, the Warriors are to blame. Apparently if the Warriors had made the Top Four in 2016 – or even the Top Eight – last season, Duco would have sold 10,000 to 15,000 more tickets had they turned out a full strength side.
It’s been a few days since we heard anyone from Duco making a “controversial” statement, but even for them, this one takes the cake.
In the inaugural competition, the Warriors made the semi-finals in 2014. They lost a quarter final in 2015 to the eventual winners, before losing the Final last year. The fact that the Warriors finished 11th, 9th and 13th in each prior NRL season to the first three Nines festivals appears to have been lost on Lonergan. Last year’s failure to make the Top Eight appears simply as a very flimsy excuse for Duco to conveniently roll out.
On all three occasions they were one of the few teams to invest completely in the competition by turning out close to full strength teams (barring injury). In doing so, the home side helped Duco gain momentum for the tournament. Where’s the criticism of other sides that treated the event as an opportunity to rest a lot of their stars during pre-season?
But then last week – somewhat hypocritically – we heard what a rip-roaring success the Brisbane 10’s was. You know Brisbane. They host that Super Rugby rabble that has looked closer to the wooden spoon than grabbing any silverware in the last few years.
It is obvious that Duco and Lonergan have moved to shift the event across the Tasman (if it’s not already signed off), and are attempting to apportion blame to anyone but themselves. In the process his snide remarks make it look like he is “punishing” Auckland for not showing up. But another thing that appears lost on Duco is that, unlike Super Rugby for example, the NRL support base is spread very evenly across each team. It is too easy, and far too simplistic, to suggest that every New Zealander is a Warriors fan by default. That is well off the mark, and Duco will know that. People have had their respective loyalties since before 1995.
Duco are not everyone’s cuppa. They cop a fair bit of criticism for trying to make money, when in fact that is exactly their goal. Good on them – that’s what they’re in business for. But they make some PR doozies, and this is no exception.
If you believed some media outlets, they have changed the sporting landscape by creating a new event. The Nines is not a new event. Sure, they may have (briefly) breathed some life back into that version of the game, but the Sydney Nines was around many years ago. Then the novelty wore off around the Super League era, and the event died.
Factor in that some coaches and administrators (in some cases quite vocally) simply don’t want to put their frontline players through a tournament of that nature at this time of year, and things get even tougher. Maybe the Singles Zone didn’t quite cut it, but if your product is good enough, you shouldn’t feel the need to single out one of 16 teams as the reason for a poor turnout.
Duco are simply clutching at straws on this one, and it wouldn’t surprise if they remain unhappy until they see one of the sides playing Teina Pora at halfback in next year’s tournament.