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Rugby league shines in union heartland

Sunday, February 16, 2014

AUCKLAND - This time rugby league really was the winner on the day — a sold out Eden Park could attest to that.

In perfect conditions, blue skies, a dry field and a comfortable 23 degrees, the inaugural NRL Nines kicked off at Auckland yesterday in a priceless promotion for the code in the rugby union heartland.

It seems hard to believe that NRL clubs initially voted against the concept.

But nothing venture, nothing gained and those same clubs who finally agreed on the concept should be reaping the rewards for years to come.

Aucklanders embraced the shortform event with almost 100,000 fans to pass through the turnstiles over the two days with a number of them sporting costumes on day one.

The Wizard of Oz's Tin Man was there, Cleopatra too and the Joker as well alongside an army of rugby league fans clad in their team's colours. And of course on field there was a streaker.

In a day that had almost everything, comeback king Brad Fittler received the biggest cheer early on his return for the Sydney Roosters after 10 seasons away.

That was before the hometown Warriors roared onto the park to put Canberra to the sword and flex their tournament muscle.

The concourses around the venue were packed with a carnival atmosphere until the Warriors took the field and there wasn't a spare seat in the house and the football took on a far more serious bent.

With pre-tournament favourites leading the way on the field the football was far more intriguing than the now defunct Sevens format.

As anticipated, touch rugby star Shaun Johnson starred for the home side in wins over Canberra and Manly.

The fans were boisterous and happy and the players loved the occasion too.

"It's a great event," Johnson said.

"The crowd is fantastic, it was great to be out there."

Fittler kept up his end of the bargain too, his intercept try in the Sydney Roosters' win over Brisbane keeping them in the tournament.

With another day, and the pointy end of the tournament to come, the plot, and the interest is only set to thicken.

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