February 4-5 at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. Watch on Fox Sports
IT seemed like just yesterday that the Cronulla Sharks broke through for their maiden NRL title. But here we are, just two weeks away from the return of Rugby League to our screens.
The best and brightest of the NRL will descend on Auckland this year for an action-packed weekend of league’s answer to T20 cricket, all chasing the lucrative $2.3 million payday.
Who plays who in the opening rounds?
The competition is split into four divisions containing four teams in each. The top two teams progress through to the quarterfinal stage.
Piha: Dragons, Eels, Sea Eagles, Warriors
The standouts in this group appear to be last year’s Grand Final combatants. Both teams are in single figures at Sportsbet.com.au to win the Auckland Nines title.
Manly made the finals for the first time last season but we not a threat, while the Dragons have never progressed past the pool stage.
Hunua: Cowboys, Roosters, Raiders, Rabbitohs
This is the hardest group to predict on paper.
All four teams could easily take out the tournament, but we think the Cowboys and the Raiders are the pair that will progress. Canberra in particular look to be great value in the market at $15 via Sportsbet.com.au given how attacking they were in the NRL in 2016.
Rangitoto: Knights, Wests Tigers, Broncos, Storm
On paper the two strongest teams are the Broncos and the Storm but the Tigers are actually the most dangerous team in this group.
Wests will take across James Tedesco, Mitch Moses and Kevin Naiqama and look over the odds at $13 via Sportsbet.com.au.
Waiheke: Sharks, Titans, Panthers, Bulldogs
This is arguably the must-watch group of the competition. Reigning NRL champions Cronulla is in the group but all eyes will be on the Titans given Jarryd Hayne is taking to the field.
The Hayne plane will be surrounded by some of the best backs in rugby league making his Titans ($9) the justified third favourites for the Nines at Sportsbet.com.au.
Who’s the team to beat?
The best team on paper to our eye is the New Zealand Warriors.
The home side has made it through to all three knockout stages since the inception of the tournament and made it all the way to the Grand Final last season, only to be beaten by the Parramatta Eels, who were subsequently stripped of the title for Salary Cap breaches.
In 2016 the Warriors dropped just one game en route to the final and doubled their opposition’s score in three of their four victories in the pool and knockout stages.
The ballistic style of the Nines suits the Warriors and the home crowd are always desperate to see the Kiwis topple the Aussies. We think this year is their year.
The New Zealand Warriors ($4.50 at Sportsbet.com.au) are the only team under the $8 quote at all the bookmakers and we think this year is their time to finally break through and salute in the shortest form of the game.
NRL Auckland Nines Betting Market
Odds provided by Sportsbet.com.au
Nth Queensland Cowboys $8
Gold Coast Titans $9
Parramatta Eels $9
Penrith Panthers $11
South Sydney Rabbitohs $13
Wests Tigers $13
Cronulla Sharks $15
Canberra Raiders $15
Newcastle Knights $17
Brisbane Broncos $21
St George Illawarra Dragons $21
Sydney Roosters $21
Manly Sea Eagles $21
Melbourne Storm $21
Canterbury Bulldogs $26
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