It was a preseason tournament that some teams took more seriously than others. Still, it’s fun to speculate, exaggerate and hyperventilate. Here’s nine hot takes from the Auckland Nines, presented by long-time BWTF supporter @NotTimSheens:
1. He’s yet to make his first grade debut but Manaia Cherrington showed why many rate him as the heir apparent to Robbie Farah. Cherrington has all the skills you want in a hooker. The kid is clearly an upgrade over Joel Luani, and I wouldn’t complain if JT flicked the switch mid-season and played Cherrington off the bench, resting Farah for 20-25 minutes a match.
2. Nathan Brown and Matthew Lodge will be the Tigers Bash Brothers in 2015 IF they remain grounded on and off the field. That’s a capital ‘I’ and a capital ‘F’ because I’m very nervous about one or both of them spontaneously combusting at any given moment. Brown showcased his versatility at the Nines and along with Lodge he loves the rough stuff.
3. He probably won’t get fans hot and bothered like future Immortal Blake Austin did in 2014, but Josh Drinkwater showed signs of being a very capable backup half and has plenty of utility value. Picked as the Tigers primary playmaker, Drinkwater’s passing and kicking games improved as the tournament progressed. He will only benefit from more game time in the upcoming trials.
4. It was great to see Jack Buchanan put together a solid showing after being overlooked by Mick Potter for much of last year. The kid has a great motor and looks to have added some considerable size since playing 23 games in the top grade in 2013. The Tigers will need willing workers this year and Buchanan fits the bill.
5. Like Buchanan, I’m expecting a big season from Brenden Santi. The Tigers will have to make more than 100 tackles a game to replace the combined workrate of Liam Fulton, Bodene Thompson and Adam Blair, and Santi will be asked to shoulder some of the load. He was all over the field, often the first player chasing when the opposition made a break.
6. Salesi Funaki will make everyone forget about James Gavet and Ben Murdoch-Masila, who looks to have enjoyed an offseason at the Aspen Street, Penrith, KFC. Funaki does everything at a million miles an hour and was one of the most damaging runners and hitters at the Nines. Let’s cut out the middle man and nickname him ‘Beast Mode’ right now.
7. I’m not buying all the talk of a fitter and faster Chris Lawrence. I expected big things from the Nines captain, and he delivered little more than one try from a neat Cherrington pass. Nothing has changed from 2014 – or 2013 or 2012 – Lawrence looks like an old man as he labours in attack and defence. Chalk this up as another Wests Tigers career cut short by injury.
8. After a solid showing at the Four Nations Tim Simona was a step or two off the pace. I thought he’d set the competition alight, but like Lawrence he looked flat and at times disinterested. History tells us the Simona kid will be fine for the competition proper, but it was a disappointing weekend for one of the best attacking weapons in the NRL.
9. Kevin Naiqama’s performance was head and shoulders – and hair – above those of Lawrence and Simona. The new recruit was a handful every time he touched the ball and he made some very astute reads in defence. Naiqama’s mix of strength, speed and athleticism is similar to that of David Nofoaluma. He should be the first back picked for the Alice Springs trial.
Thanks for reading, kids, I’ll see you in the back row.