Although the Auckland Nines won’t start for another nine weeks, last Thursday the four pools for the annual competition were announced.

The nib Newcastle Knights find themselves in a group stacked with talent, as they are set to take on the Melbourne Storm, Brisbane Broncos and Wests Tigers.

Encouragingly for the red and blues, the Club has the best Nines record out of the four sides in the Rangitoto pool as they have made the knockout stages of the tournament every year to date.

By contrast, the Storm, Broncos and Tigers have all only made it out of the group stages once each.

However, at this stage of the pre-season coach Nathan Brown is not putting any attention towards the Nines competition, and is putting the squad through plenty of ball work drills as fitness levels improve.

“Our main focus obviously is improving as a Club in the 13-a-side game rather than focusing on the Nines,” Brown explained following the tournament draw.

“Preparation for that will be a long way off for us, the week of the Nines we’d probably work out who’s going to play.”

Brown does concede that it will be a big challenge to get out of the group stage again this year, as opposition teams have plenty of fast and technical players.

“The Nines is a very unpredictable game,” he said.

“Obviously the Tigers have some quite young and entertaining players and Melbourne and Brisbane are those sort of sides that compete in whatever they play in.”