QUEENSLAND coach Mal Meninga has revealed why he is backing the new rugby league Nines concept – believing it is an idea that could help take the game to worldwide audience.
The Nines has been a somewhat controversial addition to the NRL calendar, with the inaugural event scheduled for Auckland in February.
Its arrival, coupled with the World Cup at the end of this year, has seen the All Stars match postponed for a year to help ease the workload on the game’s biggest stars.
But Meninga is a supporter of the concept, and was actually the one to suggest a nine-a-side format when promoters were first toying with the idea of rekindling the old pre-season Sevens competition.
Mal, who was also the coach of the first Australian Nines team that competed in a Super League contest in Fiji in 1996, said the concept had the power to expand league’s following around the world.
“I think the people that have been talking negatively about the Nines concept probably aren’t considering the great potential the idea has as a long-term asset for the game,” Mal said.
“I think there will be a great deal of excitement among fans about a new rugby league product, and I think it will be an excellent product for television.
“The style of play in Nines will also help to spread the game internationally I think.
“Being an enjoyable sporting spectacle will help us get a foothold in markets that may not have heard of rugby league before, the same way that sevens helped take rugby into more markets.
“Being a fast and entertaining product will help new markets get a taste of what rugby league is about, and once the game gets into those markets, we can then work hard to help it grow.
“I think the potential for the concept is huge – well beyond a single event for NRL clubs in Auckland.
“Thinking long-term, there is the opportunity for external franchises to become involved in rugby league. Maybe eventually the Nines could become its own satellite competition like the Sevens in rugby are now.
“It is also a way for some of our young stars to step up and make a name for themselves or, potentially, a way for great players to remain active in the game without the weekly grind of playing in the NRL.
“The possibilities are what makes this idea so exciting.”
Meninga says his role in the Nines was minimal, but he was a firm believer the concept is a better option that Sevens.
“I think for our game, the defensive aspect is so important, and in Nines the integrity of the game is maintained by a greater emphasis on defence,” he said.
“In Sevens, there is too much room to move. Essentially the game boils down to creating space and having the speed to run around the outside.
“I told the organisers Nines was the way to go because you still get that free-flowing attack and excitement with the extra space created with four less players on each side, but a greater emphasis on defence means that it remains a truly rugby league product.”