NRL Nines could make shock return to calendar next year

The NRL is exploring the possibility of bringing back the club-based Nines competition, with the abbreviated version of the game a strong chance of being added to the calendar as soon as next year.

The Nines were held in Auckland for four years from 2014, although the fixture was taken off the schedule due to player workload concerns revolving around the last Rugby League World Cup. When the event wasn’t reintroduced into the calendar for this season, it appeared to signal the demise of the Nines as a club competition.

However, the Herald can reveal the Nines is very much back on the governing body’s agenda, with work currently being undertaken to determine if it is financially viable to stage again. The NRL has begun discussions with several state governments which are interested in hosting the event. If those discussions prove fruitful, there is every chance the NRL Nines could be back for 2020.

“The broadcasters, the fans and players are all keen to see the Nines return,” an NRL spokesman said.

“So we are working with all stakeholders to try to make it happen. It is early days but we are hopeful the Nines will return.”

Rugby League Central engaged Duco Events to stage the inaugural club-based competition, partly because of the promoter’s strong relationship with the New Zealand government and private sectors. However, it’s understood the NRL will manage and promote the event itself if the Nines return to the calendar. Consideration is also being given to inviting women’s teams to participate in the tournament.

Should the event be staged in Australia, there will be no shortage of suitable venues to host it. Bankwest Stadium at Parramatta will soon be operational and Destination NSW is keen to add quality content to the new 30,000-seat venue. The new North Queensland Stadium is also a strong contender and the Nines could potentially be its first sporting contest if it is completed in time for the 2020 preseason.

Perth will host State of Origin this season at Optus Stadium and the Nines could be used as a further barometer of whether there is sufficient league interest in the state to install an NRL franchise. Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide are other domestic markets where there is a strong appetite for quality rugby league.

Some NRL clubs have been reticent to field their top talent in the Nines over fears they could sustain injuries. However, it’s likely a large financial incentive - previous winners received $500,000 - will be dangled to ensure all teams field strong rosters.

The NRL is mindful of player workload concerns and will liaise with all stakeholders before adding the Nines to a schedule that also includes the All Stars game, which returned to the calendar this year.

Meanwhile, the NRL confirmed the Pacific Test Invitational will be held at Leichhardt Oval on June 22 for the first time. This year’s invitational will feature the inaugural women’s match between Papua New Guinea and Fiji, along with two men’s matches - Fiji versus Lebanon and Samoa taking on Papua New Guinea.