AUCKLAND - Before a ball has even been kicked in anger, or a five point try scored, the NRL has declared the Auckland Nines a raging success.
A day before the start of the inaugural tournament you can't turn around in Auckland without being reminded about the sold-out Eden Park event.
NRL chief executive Dave Smith says the bold rugby league incursion into rugby union heartland has been embraced wholeheartedly by the New Zealand public.
"It's amazing, it's outside our wildest expectation the way it has been received," Smith said on Friday.
"The city is absolutely on fire. There is a real energy behind the event.
"I don't think there is anyone in New Zealand who isn't aware rugby league has come to Auckland.
"The teams are here to win. It is a serious tournament. Eden Park hasn't been sold out for an event since 1992 so that shows what a success it is."
With the Nines expected to pump around $5 million into the Auckland economy, Duco Events director David Higgins, the brains behind the event, said the NRL should be congratulated on taking a risk and making the concept work.
"It is an incredible success," Higgins said.
"It is a credit to the NRL for having a crack and having the foresight to see that Nines can work.
"The Nines transcends rugby league, it has become an event.
"That is also a credit to the stars that will take the field this weekend.
"I'm sure the onfield product is going to be spectacular."
Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett said he was always confident the New Zealand public would support the concept.
"I have been very supportive of it from the start and I'm pleased we are all here," he said.
"To see all the talent here as one group is an achievement and that makes it very exciting."
"It is a great way to start the season."