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NZ promoters unconcerned by 9s switch talk

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 31/01/2017

Organisers of this weekend's Auckland Nines have brushed off suggestions the NRL may move the tournament to Melbourne in 2019.

The game's organising body is reportedly keen to piggyback on the success of tennis' Australian Open by hosting the Nines one week afterwards at AAMI Park.

The move could help rugby league spread its message in AFL-dominated Melbourne and convince some to remain in town after the Open.

Venues on the Gold Coast, Townsville, Newcastle, Brisbane and even Perth may also be in the running for the two-day tournament.

But Auckland Nines organisers Duco Events, who helped get the series off the ground in 2014, were unconcerned by the media speculation across the ditch.

Their contract to host the Nines in the City of Sails will expire after the 2018 event but it gave no indication they feared for its future.

"We're not taking any notice, as we are devoting all our energies into this weekend's nines tournament," Duco chief David Higgins said.

The nines opened to much fanfare in 2014, selling more than 45,000 tickets to Eden Park and bringing $NZ9 million into the Kiwi economy.

But attendances have been thinner in the two subsequent years, with 43,000 tickets sold in 2015 and just 37,000 last year.

Duco is bullish about 2017 attendances, predicting more than 40,000 tickets will be snapped up by kick-off on Saturday.

But the lead-up to the tournament has been accompanied by persistent criticism from Australian quarters, labelling the nines a time-waster.

Panthers general manager and pundit Gus Gould took to social media to slam the event while club chief Brian Fletcher called it an unnecessary risk to players.

He said a series of trial matches, rather than the nines, was better preparation for the NRL season.

"We have $A8 ($NZ8.3) million worth of footballers we want to win the (NRL) comp with, not a nines," Fletcher told News Corp Australia.

Wests Tigers are also set to rest most of their first-choice players.

When reports of Australian cities poaching the nines last arose in 2015, Higgins admitted Auckland couldn't compete dollar for dollar with places like Melbourne.

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