The Auckland Nines is only a pre-season tournament, but Newcastle Knights coach Wayne Bennett believes the event will serve as vital preparation for the NRL season proper.
Coach Bennett and his players left Newcastle on Wednesday afternoon bound for Auckland full of confidence and excitement for the inaugural tournament.
The veteran mentor spoke to Knights TV on departure, saying he has selected his strongest side possible for the event with a view to hone their skills and discipline for the Club's NRL campaign.
"This (event) is a minor game, but it’s not a bad way to start when I think about it," Bennett says.
"My main message to them is to control the footy as best they can, compete really well and work hard in defence for each other.
"If they do that, then that’s the things that are going to give us a successful season in 2014 if we are going to have one.
"I just want us to compete really well and have a bit of sense about our play without thinking we can just go out there and throw the ball from one end of the field to the other.
"That's why I’ve taken all my experienced players that are fit and ready to go, so I’ve taken what I consider the best of."
Bennett admits the Knights are yet to formally start training for the Auckland Nines, but confirms he'll briefly speak with the players in the lead-up to the event about his goals and expectations.
"We’ve done no preparation for it, but we’ve done a lot of preparation for the season so I’m sure that will be beneficial in that sense," he explains.
"Tomorrow (Thursday) I’ll spend a bit of time with them, talk through a little bit and see how we go on Saturday.
"It’s just nine on nine and next week it will get a bit more serious with 13 on 13, but I’m looking forward to it and I hope the boys enjoy it and have some fun."
Bennett says this weekend’s Auckland Nines will also be another chance for the Club’s rookies to impress.
This includes exciting winger Jake Mamo, who scored a hat-trick in the trial against the First Nations Goannas last weekend, and emerging hooker Adam Clydsdale.
Bennett was particularly impressed with Mamo and other emerging stars like Sione Mata'utia against the Goannas and has no doubts they have a big future ahead of them.
"I just liked what they did and how they did it," he enthuses.
"I think they showed us all that they’ve got qualities that we hope will transfer to the Knights at some stage of their life in the next few years."
The Auckland Nines concept is only new, but Bennett hopes the event remains on the game's calendar long-term.
"I hope its got a future," he says.
"I mean, the fans are telling us it has got a future.
"It’s sold out for two days in Auckland, so that’s telling me it has got a future."
Newcastle will kick-off the Auckland Nines tournament on Saturday with a clash against the Sharks at 10.35am (AEST), before taking on the Titans at 2.45pm and finishing off the pool stage on Sunday with a match against the Tigers at 10.25am.