Here are the squads and predictions for the teams that will contest the Piha group of the Auckland Nines.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, New Zealand Warriors, Parramatta Eels, St George Illawarra Dragons
Sea Eagles: Brenton Lawrence (c), Jono Wright, Matt Wright, Brian Kelly, Akuila Uate, Jorge Taufua, Pita Godinet, Cameron Cullen, Peter Schuster, Tom Wright, Joey Lussick, Shaun Lane, Frank Winterstein, Jarrad Kennedy, Curtis Sironen, Addin Fonua Blake, Martin Taupau, Lloyd Perrett.
Coach Trent Barrett was incredibly vocal about his dislike for the 9’s last year given the injury toll suffered and has kept his stars safe this year by naming a mostly youthful team. Many new recruits have been named for the team like Sironen, Uate, Cullen and Kennedy. While Barrett may want to avoid any injuries to key players, the 9’s also looms as a selection test for new recruits who can put forward a good impression to make the final 17 come Round 1.
Warriors: Ryan Hoffman, Junior Pauga, Matt Allwood, Blake Ayshford, Ata Hingano, Solomone Kata, Shaun Johnson, Ruben Wiki (c), Mason Lino, Bunty Afoa, James Gavet, Tuimoala Lolohea, Jazz Tevaga, Ofahiki Ogden, Lewis Soosemea, Toafofoa Sipley, Isaiah Papalii, James Bell
In seasons past the Warriors have consistently sent out a strong side for the home crowd yet have failed to deliver on each occasion. In 2017 new coach Stephen Kearney has presumably decided not to take any unnecessary risks and sent out a reasonably competitive side just with less star power than usual. The side combines a fair mix of regular first graders with fringe players like Mason Lino and Ata Hingano who could very well accompany Shaun Johnson in the halves come Round 1 if Kieran Foran’s contract is not approved by the NRL.
Eels: Nathan Brown, Kenny Edwards, Jamal Fogarty, Bevan French, David Gower, Clint Gutherson, Josh Hoffman, George Jennings, Cameron King, Suaia Matagi, Tepai Moeroa, Corey Norman (c), Marata Niukore, Scott Schulte, Rory O’Brien, Semi Radradra, Honeti Tuha, Joseph Ualesi, Troy Dargan
The Eels were stripped of their Auckland 9’s title last year. For 2017 they’ve made their intentions clear that they’re aiming to make amends for that mistake and capture the title fair and square, naming a strong side full of speed and strength. The likes of French, Gutherson, Radradra and Hoffman provide the side with a ton of strike power while players like Brown, Edwards, Matagi and Moeroa will add the go forward and power through the middle.
Dragons: Patrick Herbert, Nene MacDonald, Euan Aitken , Levi Dodd, Kalifa Faifai Loa, Kurt Mann, Siliva Havili, Cameron McInnes, Luciano Leilua, Tyson Frizell (c), Joel Thompson, Jack de Belin, Tariq Sims, Taane Milne, Shaun Nona,Will Matthews, Matt Dufty, Jai Field
For a team that is widely tipped to be in contention for the wooden spoon, the Dragons have sent over a very strong 9’s team. The forward pack is heavy on first graders like Jack De Belin, Tariq Sims and Joel Thompson with Tyson Frizell being named captain as a reward for a strong 2016 season. Players like Shaun Nona and Jai Field will have a chance to impress as the creative playmakers of the team and put some pressure on Josh McCrone to retain his first grade spot. With the addition of a potent backline the Dragons have all the ingredients to make a good run at the tournament.
Who will advance?
The Nines has proven to be a very unpredictable tournament and the team that looks best on paper isn’t always the one that delivers. However both the Eels and Dragons have decided to field very strong sides that should have enough of a balance between seasoned first grade and enthusiastic youngsters to advance through to the next rounds.
Manly are fielding a decent side with potential given many of the players named are unwanted from other clubs and looking to impress but realistically coach Trent Barrett will just be hoping nobody gets injured. The Warriors will put in a good showing and Shaun Johnson should provide plenty of excitement and entertainment but I don’t see them getting past the group stages this year.
Winners: Parramatta Eels, St George Illawarra Dragons