Finally rugby league is back! And what better way to start a new year of football than with the Auckland Nines, a high-speed format of football that favours the fast and the brave.

Read on to find out which players you need to keep your eye on in our pool, when we’ll be playing our matches and how our opponents will be lining up.
 
DRAW

Saturday February 6 at Eden Park
Newcastle Knights v North Queensland Cowboys
Kick-off: 11.20am AEST, 1.20 NZST
 
Newcastle Knights v Penrith Panthers
Kick-off: 3.15pm AEST, 5.15 NZST
 
Sunday February 7 at Eden Park
Newcastle Knights v Wests Tigers
Kick-off: 9.25am AEST, 11.25am NZST
 
Finals at Eden Park

Quarter final 1 kick-off: 11.55am AEST, 1.55pm NZST
Quarter final 2 kick-off: 12.20pm AEST, 12.20pm NZST
Quarter final 3 kick-off: 1.05pm AEST, 3.05pm NZST
Quarter final 4 kick-off: 1.30pm AEST, 3.30pm NZST
 
Semi final 1 kick-off: 2.40pm AEST, 4.40pm NZST
Semi final 2 kick-off: 3.05pm AEST, 5.05pm NZST
 
Grand final kick-off: 4.40pm AEST, 6.40pm NZST

KNIGHTS SQUAD:
1. Jake Mamo, 2. Nathan Ross, 3. Jaelen Feeney, 4. Akuila Uate, 6. Brock Lamb, 7. Will Pearsell, 8. Pauli Pauli, 9. Tyler Randell (c), 10. Daniel Saifiti, 11. Korbin Sims, 12. Robbie Rochow (c), 13. Jacob Saifiti, 14. Sione Mata’utia, 15. Joseph Tapine, 16. Tariq Sims (c), 17. Chanel Mata’utia, 18. Danny Levi, 19. Pat Mata’utia.

Verdict
The Knights are being hailed by most as dark horses with the pace and power to trouble any side. There is an interesting blend of unknown rookies and proven stars that will make for compelling viewing.

Who to keep an eye on
Where to begin? Dazzling utility back Jaelen Feeney has the skillset to blow opponents away in open play while everybody will be keen to see how the Saifiti twins handle themselves on the big stage.

Joseph Tapine and Jake Mamo enter the tournament in good form while Brock Lamb is also one for the future. His strong kicking game could see the likes of Akuila Uate and Nathan Ross scoring plenty of tries down the flanks.

Danger man
Uate has had a strong pre-season and is looking fitter and stronger than ever. He will prove a handful for any opposition when he has the ball in hand.
 

COWBOYS SQUAD:
1. Matthew Bowen, 2. Kyle Feldt, 3. Justin O’Neill, 4. Kane Linnett, 5. Antonio Winterstein, 6. Lachlan Coote, 7. Ray Thompson, 8. John Asiata, 9. Jake Granville, 10. James Tamou, 11. Gavin Cooper (c), 12. Ethan Lowe, 13. Jason Taumalolo, 14. Michael Morgan, 15. Rory Kostjasyn, 16. Coen Hess, 17. Matthew Wright, 18. Gideon Gela-Mosby.

Verdict
The 2015 NRL premiership winners have to be one of the favourites for the competition.
While most sides have looked to blood as many youngsters as possible, the Cowboys have included 13 players from their grand final winning side.

Who to keep an eye on
Try-scoring weapon Gideon Gela-Mosby scored 39 four-pointers in the Holden Cup last year.
The 19-year-old is considered one of the fastest players ever to wear a Cowboys shirt.

Danger man
Jason Taumalolo is one of the best tackle-breakers in the game. The Knights will have to put plenty of bodies in front of him to stop the Cowboys from making big metres.

PANTHERS SQUAD:
1. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 2. Josh Mansour, 3. Waqa Blake, 4. Robert Jennings, 5. Te Maire Martin, 6. Sione Katoa, 7. Will Smith, 8. Suaia Matagi, 9. James Segeyaro, 10. Jeremy Latimore (c), 11. Bryce Cartwright, 12. Isaah Yeo, 13. Elijah Taylor, 14. Corey Harawira, 15. Ben Garcia, 16. Zach Dockar-Clay, 17. Chris Smith, 18. Moses Leota.

Verdict
The Panthers have taken a similar approach to the Knights when it comes to squad selection.
They have plenty of backline power, some strength up the middle and a number of rookies eager to show what they’ve got.

Who to keep an eye on
New Zealander Te Maire Martin is a young half with deceptive footwork and great hands.
Yet to play first grade, he was given a train-on spot with the Kiwis for their recent tour of England.

Danger man
James Segeyaro is dangerous enough when there’s 13 players per side. With more space and time around the ruck he’ll be a big danger.
The Knights will have to maintain plenty of pressure on him down the middle.
 

TIGERS SQUAD
1. Josh Addo-Carr, 2. Jack Buchanan, 3. Tyler Cassel, 4. Michael Chee-Kam, 5. Manaia Cherrington, 6. Josh Drinkwater, 7. Rod Griffin, 8. Watson Heleta, 9. Justin Hunt, 10. Chris Lawrence (c), 11. Lamar Liolevave, 12. Jack Littlejohn, 13. Kyle Lovett, 14. Nathan Milone, 15. Kevin Naiqama, 16. Ava Seumanufagai, 17. Tim Simona, 18. Sauaso Sue.

Verdict
The Tigers are travelling to Auckland without their first-choice hooker, halves and fullback.
Also without formidable prop Aaron Woods, they will struggle to make a big impact on the tournament.

Who to keep an eye on
Still only 21, Manaia Cherrington already has 11 first grade games to his name.
With plenty of competition amongst hookers at the Tigers this year, he will be keen to put in some strong showings.

Danger man
Tim Simona is one of the Tigers’ most experienced players competing in the Nines this year.
An outside back that is more than capable of scoring tries, he grew up in Auckland.
 
RULES YOU NEED TO KNOW

There are several rule changes for the Auckland Nines in order to make it a faster contest with fewer stoppages.

The most important are:

. When a team gains possession from a mistake they have one free play to make a high-risk move. If they lose the ball in that play, they retain possession from where the original error took place.

. Scrums only occur following a double knock-on or mutual infringement. Everything else results in a handover.

. Tries scored in the ‘Bonus Zone’ behind the goalposts are worth five points rather than four. Conversions are taken with a dropkick instead of from a tee.

. Conversions must be attempted within 25 seconds, or else no points will be awarded.

. Sin bins last for three minutes rather than ten.

. Possession is handed over after five tackles rather than six.

. If scores are equal after full time, the teams swap ends and the side that scores the next try wins. In pool matches, if no try has been scored after five minutes the game finishes as a draw. In knock-out game, play continues until someone has scored.
 
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