2016 Auckland Nines – Piha Group preview

The 2016 Dick Smith Electronic Auckland Nines draw was announced earlier this week.  South Sydney are the defending champions for the tournament.

We have a look at what the Piha Group draw means for each club at the event that will take place at Eden Park on 6-7 February 2016.

POOL: Piha

Cronulla will be looking to make up for their heartbreaking loss in the Nines final last year when they spearhead the Piha pool at the Auckland Nines.

Canberra Raiders
2014 record: 1 win, 2 losses
2015 record: 1 win, 2 losses
Odds: $15 (Sportsbet)

Canberra will be looking to improve on their previous two campaigns at the Nines where they were bundled out at the first phase even with the great Ken Nagas playing in 2015.  Two key players may determine their fate.  Blake Austin missed last year’s event but showed in the National Rugby League main season that he’s capable of being a match winner on any day.  The other player who may be unleashed on the tournament is Josh Hodgson after arriving from the UK and having a breakout year with the Raiders.  Another Brit, Elliott Whitehead and former Knights rake Adam Clysdale are likely to be given a hit-out at the tournament.  History goes against them making any impact at the tournament.

Cronulla Sharks
2014 record: 3 wins, 2 losses (semi-finalists)
2015 record: 5 wins, 1 loss (finalists)
Odds: $10 (Sportsbet)

Cronulla set out to put their ASADA problems behind them in 2015 and almost produced a stunning Nines tournament win. They probably deserve to be favourites going into the 2016 event.  Jack Bird forced the final into golden point with a late try and once again he will be a key to how successful Cronulla are at the tournament.  Wade Graham was named in the All Star Nines side for his efforts during last tournament and he will once again lead from the front.  This tournament will be a chance for Josh Cleeland, Matt McIlrick and returning Chad Townsend to make an impact at this tournament.  Cleeland is a talented prospect from Ipswich Jet’s Intrust Super Cup winning side. Danger side of the comp.

Gold Coast Titans
2014 record: 1 win, 2 losses
2015 record: 1 win, 2 losses
Odds: $21 (Sportsbet)

The Titans have struggled at the previous two tournaments in struggling to make the knockout stage.  It may be the same result again for the struggling club from the glitter strip.  If selected, James Roberts is in a league of his own with amazing speed and try scoring rate.  He could elevate the Titans past the preliminary group stage.  The other Roberts, Tyrone may make his debut with the club and be the chief play maker for the event.  Don’t discount Anthony Don’s match winning abilities despite being overshadowed by James Roberts in 2015.  Their match with St George-Illawarra likely to determine their tournament.

St George-Illawarra Dragons
2014 record: 1 win, 2 losses
2015 record: 2 wins, 1 loss
Odds: $17 (Sportsbet)

St George-Illawarra can consider themselves unlucky not to have progressed to the quarter finals at last years Nines, missing out on points differential to Newcastle in their group.  Their star in the tournament was Eto Nabuli.  He will be missing this time around as he resumes a career in rugby union.  Dragons fans will be hoping Benji Marshall leads the side and the selection of Gareth Widdop would be a bonus. With off-season surgery it’s unlikely Josh Dugan will be risked for the event.  Of the newcomers, Kalifa Fai Fai Loa is looking to restart his career after a disappointing time on the Gold Coast.  The other player to watch is Kurt Mann after making 28 appearances with the Storm, a solid centre who could have an impact at the tournament.

PREDICTION: Cronulla Sharks, St George-Illawarra Dragons


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