By John Davidson
The maiden World Cup Nines will take place at Parramatta’s Bankwest Stadium this weekend.
Twelve men’s teams and four women’s teams from around the world will do battle over the two days, Friday and Saturday, to crowned the first Nines world champion.
The men’s teams have been separated into three groups with Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the United States in Group A, England, France, Lebanon and Wales in Group B, and Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and the Cook Islands in Group C.
The hope from the global governing body is that the World Cup Nines can be a regular, popular even that runs alongside the 13-player World Cup every four years. The belief that Nines could be become rugby league’s version of Twenty20 cricket, helping the sport to grow and attract new fans across the planet.
The Kangaroos have named a strong squad for this tournament, albeit one with a lot of youth and inexperience. Daly Cherry-Evans, Wade Graham, Ben Hunt and Tyson Frizell will provide the experience, while there is electrifying pace in Kayln Ponga, Josh Addo-Carr and Ryan Papenhuyzen.
Like Australia, New Zealand have gone with a good plend of new faces and old faces. They include Shaun Johnson, Dylan Brown, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Jordan Rapana.
England will be favourites at the World Cup with a talent squad filled with finishes and creative players. Sam Tomkins, George Williams and Blake Austin will run the show, while Ryan Hall and Jermaine McGillvary will provide the threat out wide.
But sure to do some damage, and are real contenders, are both Fiji and Tonga. The Bati have Maika Sivo, Waqa Blake, Suliasi Vunivalu and Viliame Kikau to call on. Tonga have called on Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita, Joe Ofagengaue and Tevita Pangai Jr, so are sure to have the biggest pack at the World Cup.
Samoa will have some dangerous players in David Nofoaluma, Brian To’o, Jorge Taufua and the Leilua brothers, Joey and Luciano, while the Kumuls will rely on Justin Olam and Rhyse Martin.
The Cook Islands could be darkhorses as they have Alex Glenn, Brad Takairangi and Tepai Moeroa, while France have Jason Baitieri and Hakim Miloudi in their squad.
Lebabon have unfortunately been decimated since the 2017 World Cup and will be without most of their top stars. The Robinson brothers, Reece and Travis, will have to lead the line for the Cedars.
Another nation looking to make a mark is the United States. They possess a number of ex-NRL players in Bureta Faraimo, Junior Vaivai and Eddy Pettybourne. Similary, Wales are out to make an impact and have one of the best finishers in the world in St Helens flyer Regan Grace.
No one knows exactly what to expect from the inaugural World Cup Nines. But there is doubt there will be a huge amount of talent on display and fans are set to be treated to some exciting rugby league action.