The Auckland Nines tournament will take place on the weekend of January 31-Feb1, kicking-off a jam-packed pre-season for NRL clubs and players.
The most jam-packed NRL pre-season of all time kicks off on January 31 when the second $2.4m Auckland Nines event gets underway at Eden Park.
The tournament, which was an overwhelming success last February with more than 88,000 fans packing into Eden Park over the two days, starts two weeks earlier next year.
This will allow for the return of the indigenous All Stars game in Brisbane on February 14.
The following weekend will see three teams head to the UK to play in the lucrative new-look World Club Challenge featuring three Super League outfits.
South Sydney and Brisbane have already been confirmed for the competition which will also include the team that wins the NRL grand final.
Should the Rabbitohs, who will face St George Illawarra in the Charity Shield before flying to England, end their 44-year wait for a premiership, then another club will be invited to take part.
“It’s an exciting pre-season which will raise plenty of interest before the regular season starts,” NRL football operations manager Nathan McGuirk told AAP.
“The Nines was a huge success last year and is now very much part of the pre-season program.
“The World Club Challenge is a great opportunity for our clubs to grow themselves overseas.”
English Premier League clubs embark on lucrative pre-season competitions across the world to prepare for their campaigns, and it has been suggested that NRL clubs could do something similar in the future.
Parramatta chief executive Scott Seward said the plan does have merits but believes it’s important clubs don’t lose focus on growing the game in their traditional heartlands.
“I’d like to hear more about the World Club Challenge as we haven’t been consulted about it at all,” he said.
“But for us our number one priority is for pre-season has to be in country Australia so our fans out there get to see our games.
“In my opinion that is where pre-season should be played. You’d like to be involved in games overseas and the World Club Challenge affords us that opportunity.
“But at the moment I don’t think that’s the number one issue concerning our game.”
Duco Events CEO David Higgins, who will promote the Nines in conjunction with the NRL, believes the competition will grow in significance each year for clubs given the prize money on offer.
“It was amazing how well it went last year, but I think the difference this year will be the competitive edge,” Higgins said.
“Now the teams, coaches and players know the game of nines a bit better they will be more calculating because they all want to win that prize money.”
2015 NRL AUCKLAND NINES COMPETITION DRAW
St George Illawarra
Hanau Ranges Pool