A rugby league pre-season competition will be reborn next season with a $2 million prize pool.
The long-awaited nines tournament will be unveiled by the NRL on Thursday morning with all 16 NRL clubs competing in the NRL Auckland Nines at Eden Park on February 15-16.
Winners will walk away with about $450,000 while teams will be guaranteed a minimum of $90,000. Clubs must provide at least one of their top five paid players in their squad of 16, which will include at least 12 players from club’s top 25 squad.
Rugby league last played a pre-season sevens tournament in 2004.
NRL head of football Todd Greenberg said the competition would help develop the game.
“It’s been more than 12 months in the making,” Greenberg said, “It’s a great shot in the arm for the game that Auckland Tourism has shown such significant strength to invest in a concept like this.
“It’s a really important strategic part for the game. It’ll grow audience, viewers and new fans to the game. It opens us to new markets.”
The event will be unchanged for the next five years with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development tipping in a $9 million sponsorship.
Rules may be tinkered too, with Australian coach Tim Sheens to head a rules committee.
Initial changes being considered include scoring teams to kick-off, and a possible variation for the worth of tries, with long distance tries set to be worth more.
The fans will also have an opportunity to express possible rule changes.
“It’s clear that this time of year most clubs are playing trials which don’t have a great commercial return,” Greenberg said. “We’ve found a slot in the season structure which we think can work really well.
“I think you’ll find that players will be very engaged to compete for big prize money. There is big prize money on offer. I think players will play to win.”
Teams will be divided into four pools, with the top two advancing to the finals. Teams may be grouped based on their 2013 NRL performance.
Unlike the previous world sevens tournaments, there will be no minor play-off games.
Two pool games will be played on day one, with the final group match followed by finals on day two.
“Several clubs have already made inquires about staging camps,” Greenberg said. “Some of them will take their whole squad over to make it a real pre-season camp.”
Super League ran an international nines tournament to launch its season in 1996 and 1997.
Club’s will play regular trial matches on the weekends either side of the nines tournament before the NRL season kicks-off on Thursday, March 6.
Greenberg said the nine’s tournament plus the annual All-Stars match, which has been postponed next year because of the World Cup, would launch the rugby league season together from 2015.
How the nines will work
■ 16-man squad with 12 of the players from the club’s top-25 squad
■ At least one of the top five paid players from each club will play
■ Players have to feature in at least one game
■ Likely to be shown on Fox Sports
■ Prizemoney from $90,000 to about $450,000
■ Four pools, top two teams progress to finals
■ Clubs able to wear one-off jerseys
■ 18-minute matches