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Nines a perfect opportunity to road-test rule changes

The World Nines is a great forum to experiment with the rules of rugby league.

The format of the nine-a-side game means there’s a lot more space, so we generally see a lot more free-running and entertaining football. And making our game even more fun to watch is always a good thing.

I really like the 20-40 rule added in alongside the existing 40-20 rule. The game is all about field position these days – kicking into corners, having a great kick-chase. If you can upset that by kicking from your own 20 to go past your 40, then that keeps defences on the back foot a little bit. They now have to be weary of that kick.

Normally when you pin teams inside the red zone, defences come up hard with good line-speed to try to dominate, and attacking teams struggle to get free of that area. But the ability to kick from inside your 20 allows that extra bit of entertainment I spoke of earlier.

The drop-kick conversion, instead of using the tee, raises a few things in my eyes.

The average winning score over the last few Nines tournaments has been 10 or 12 points. So drop goals play a big part of that. Having a good kicker in your team would be a necessity, someone who can kick field goals from anywhere like a Mitchell Pearce, James Maloney, Anthony Milford, Benji Marshall, Daly Cherry-Evans, Corey Norman, Adam Reynolds - all those quality halves.

Why World 9s so important for smaller nations

So maybe you pick your halves on their ability to be able to kick field goals.

I think coaches would be looking at a split of say six forwards and 10 backs. It’s three-man scrums so you’re looking at mobile forwards. I’m not sure it’s the type of game where the heavier, bigger props would survive.

You’d be looking at the more mobile forward, who has the ability to play second-phase football – that’d be ideal. So you’re talking of players like Jake Trbojevic, Dale Finucane, Josh McGuire. They are guys who can play long minutes but also have a fair bit of skill about them in off-loads and passing.

I’m absolutely behind players swapping allegiance at the World Nines because to have your best rugby league players be part of a tournament like this is essential.

There’s always a risk that key players might pick up an injury at this two-day competition that then keeps them from the international Test series later in October and November.

My philosophy would not be to shield players for the Kangaroos game, but I would be overlooking players from the grand final teams as I think it’s too close to that game. I’d make them exempt.

Milford eagerly awaits a raging Taumalolo for World Cup 9s

And then I’d want to know who is making themselves available for the Nines, especially if they didn’t make the NRL finals, so I could have a mind to play them and get them some match fitness in the lead-up to the New Zealand Test (October 25) and then Tonga (November 20).

But you’re also looking at guys who are specialist Nines players, who may not be part of your Test team plans. I’m looking at a squad of around 19 for the Tests and some of those will come from the Nines and some from the two grand final sides.

I love the Nines concept because it’s not only conducive to rule changes but also because it highlights the skills of players more than the 13-a-side game where structure is king.

The Nines will expose our fans to skills the players actually do have, but aren’t on show as much in the regular competition. You can see the true footy player, so to speak.

How the inaugural Rugby League World Cup 9s will work

I would like to see the Nines taken overseas, or to other parts of Australia, and maybe place it in between the RLIF World Cup four-year cycle. That means every two years there would be a huge international competition to showcase our great game.

The last World Cup was 2017, now the 2019 World Nines, the 2021 World Cup is set for England, and then a 2023 World Nines, venue to be confirmed. So it becomes an event you can on-sell to Australian cities and other parts of the world.

I think this has already been talked about but I’d like to see it firmed up in our future scheduling.


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