Meninga urges league 9s to be given time

Coach Mal Meninga says the World Nines need time to grow on the international rugby league stage.
Coach Mal Meninga says the World Nines need time to grow on the international rugby league stage.

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has urged organisers to be patient with the Nines to ensure the World Cup concept is given time to grow on the international calendar.

The inaugural global Nines tournament will kick off on Friday night at Bankwest Stadium, with Australia's men opening the tournament against New Zealand.

More than 70 NRL players will feature across the weekend but, at this stage, a crowd of around 12,000 is expected for Friday night's fixtures and 17,000 on Saturday.

But regardless, Meninga joined England coach Wayne Bennett in calling for the International Rugby League to ensure the format wasn't cut in and out of the game's schedule.

"I'm hoping it's the start of something great in our game," Meninga said.

"A pioneer tournament for World Cup and Nines. I see value in the Nines being a really good showcase opportunity for our game around the world, similar to rugby sevens.

"I think Wayne said yesterday, we hope we don't give up too quickly. That we actually try and find a place on the international calendar.

"And that gap between World Cups on the four-year cycle works really well."

This weekend's event has its challenges for crowds in that it falls just two weeks after the grand final and has The Everest race on Saturday as opposition.

But the timing has at least worked wonders in player availability.

While the club-based Nines had opposition from coaches at the start of the season in Auckland, the game's best talent will be on show at the international level.

And Meninga predicted it would only become a better spectacle for rugby league the longer the format was played.

"It will evolve over the years, probably better," Meninga said.

"What it does is sometimes the 13s game is very strategic and grinding.

"But you get to see the players express some of their skills, the passing skills, the running skills and more space to move in. It will be quite entertaining.

"As we get used to the concept, when you start bringing that skill set in, the game will evolve and be a really good spectacle."

Kangaroos co-captain Daly Cherry-Evans said the international format of the game was being treated more seriously than at club level.

"It's definitely more serious because, as an Australian player, I've got the opportunity to put on the jersey again," the Manly halfback said.

"Even though people are trying to take the lighter side to this, we are playing in a World Cup and, as an Australian side, we want to win it."

Australian Associated Press