Bring international teams into the 9’s concept and you’ll get bums on seats

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(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Any of you watched the recently completed Auckland 9’s competition? Did you notice that there were a lot more white spaces than previous years? Yes that’s right – crowd attendance was disappointing.

A day after the completion of the competition, we hear news reports that 9’s ambassadors Jonathan Thurston and Shaun Johnstone are calling out for the competition to be staged elsewhere. Obviously, the crowd makes up the whole atmosphere and if there aren’t many bums on seats, that alone will make the whole event less entertaining.

Why don’t they include international teams in the competition as well? They’ll certainly put bums on seats because there’s a wider audience the game can reach.  Not everyone follows an NRL team but if their country is participating, surely supporters are going to head up to the stadium in numbers to support their country.

The 9’s concept is a shorter version of the game and really it’s anyone’s game from the start.

Rugby league doesn’t have that much international following and the 9’s gives other rugby league nations a chance to compete.  Of course, we have the Rugby League World Cup but the longer version is going to come down to three teams: Australia, New Zealand and England.

Perhaps the NRL could consider including second tier countries like Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and PNG – it would be an absolute feast on and off the field.

According to an Auckland Council Research Paper, the total number of Pacific Islands people living in Auckland represents 14.7% of the population in New Zealand.

Including countries like Samoa and Tonga would be greatly supported by Pacific Island people living in Auckland.

Obviously, high profile players like Thurston and Johnstone ain’t enough to draw the crowd if the weekend that’s gone is any indication. There’s got to be something more to convince Auckland residents that the event is worth attending.  Having your country be represented in the event could possibly be a positive drawing card to get bums on seats.

Some of you might recall a couple of decades back when the Winfield sponsored World 7’s was held in Sydney. It was a highly successful event.  Even Sydney-siders opted to support international teams like the PNG Kumuls because they entertained the crowd so much.  There was a lot of pride and passion shown on the field and off it which created an even more exciting atmosphere.

If the NRL wants to grow the game outside of Brisbane and Sydney they’re going to have a closer look at the international teams that can provide that added spectacle.

Give the Samoans, Batis, Kumuls and Tongans a go! You won’t be disappointed.

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