2014 9's Cup winners

By Matthew Brown, Date: 9/2/15

Over the past week two major Rugby League tournaments occurred. One which is very well known (NRL Auckland 9s) and the Cabramatta International 9s. Both occur around the same time of the year and showcase Rugby League’s shorter version…Nines. Back in the day, Rugby League had two versions, the original World 7s and various Super League World 9s tournaments back in the 80s and 90s. Now, Rugby League 9s is the version played more widely and rightfully so.

There are a few reasons why Rugby League 9s is not only positive from a spectator’s point of view, but also for the players/teams’ themselves and Rugby League as a whole. 

Entertainment and Style of play

I have been to numerous 9s tournaments in Australia and New Zealand such as the Mitchelton 9s in Brisbane, Cabramatta International 9s in Sydney and most recently, the Auckland 9s. From a supporter’s viewpoint, 9s is enjoyable to watch because teams have more room to play with and can be more creative and expansive with the ball.

Halfbacks can influence the game greatly (more so than in 13s) because they have more room to work with and can more easily put a winger into a hole. The forwards, although not as quick or fit stamina wise to the backs, can make a mark on a 9s game because there is still enough players in the defence to create problems for backs. Kicks are also valuable because a short grubber or chip over the top can take a defence off guard. Offloads if created by a big forward with 3 players hanging off him can make extra space for the attacking team to utilize.

So due to the extra space, less players and amount of teams on show, 9s has the ability to entertain the fans and get value for their money by watching different teams in a day or two of footy.

Player/ Team development and International Expansion

An additional benefit of 9s is the way it can develop players who are not up to the 13 man game and the debut of new teams.

Players who are not ready to make their first team debut can play in a 9s tournament and mix it with players of a similar skill level. Tournaments such as the Cabramatta 9s and Auckland 9s are PERFECT examples of this because teams who have younger/inexperienced players use 9s tournaments to develop players further who might not get a start in their First XIII.

Teams can also use 9s tournaments to make their debut. In the Cabramatta 9s last week, Chile and El Salvador made history by making their inaugural entrance into the International Rugby League world. Both teams performed admirably in the tournament and have helped kickstart efforts to gain promotion of the sport in each of their home countries.

https://www.facebook.com/ElSalvadorRL (El Salvador Facebook page).
https://www.facebook.com/ChileRugbyXIII (Chile Facebook Page)
https://www.facebook.com/SouthAmericanRugbyLeague/posts/392375624265340 (Photos from the tournament).

This isn’t the first time international teams have used 9s to gain attention for their nation. The Philippines, Vanuatu, Latin Heat, Canada and various other nations have used tournaments such as the Cabramatta 9s to help identify eligible players and gain attention for Rugby League in their retrospective home nations. This can help grow the game because individuals in the home nation can see they have an international team and help develop the game back in the nation itself.
Rugby League 9s similarity to 13

Rugby League 9s is a very close relative to its original 13 version. Although there is less players and time in a half, more space on the field, overall, Rugby League 9s is not that much detached from the full 13 player game. Teams still have to consider using their forwards to help move the ball up the field, completing their sets and keeping possession.

I have witnessed numerous 9 a side games which went down to the wire and even went into extra time. When this happens the game has the same atmosphere and feeling of an NRL or State of Origin game. Experienced players need to come to the front and help their team get over the line and not make too many mistakes. Set plays become crucial and sometimes “going wide” isn’t always the best option. So it benefits the game greatly when players can play in 9s tournaments and not feel as if their playing in a whole different game altogether.

The Verdict?

Rugby League 9s is a fantastic tool at Rugby League’s disposal. No matter if you are a fan, coach, player or team manager, the game ticks all the boxes for the sport as a whole.

Fans get to travel and witness different teams playing over a shorter period of time and experience more footy. The game is more open, faster and creative and can entertain neutrals just as much as the Full 13 player version. Players and teams benefit because new players can develop their skills and experience Rugby League in a shorter version. International and new club teams can make their debut and help spread the game into new markets via promotion of their retrospective team. Nines also has a big advantage because not only is it a shorter version of the game, but also has the same features, skills and attributes of a full 13 a side game of League.