The future host of the NRL Nines will be decided by a bidding process, increasing the chance of Auckland losing the event beyond 2018.
While the NRL recognises the success of the tournament here, and the work done by Ateed and Duco in the past few years, there is no guarantee Auckland will be awarded the rights beyond the existing five-year contract.
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman John Grant confirmed the two-day tournament had attracted the attention of cities across Australia.
“We have interest from lots of places and why wouldn’t we? It has been fantastic,” Grant told the Herald on Sunday.
“We want to be respectful of long-term relationships [with Duco and Ateed] and that is going to play into the consideration but the process will allow all groups who think this will be attractive to them to be part of that process.”
Grant confirmed the NRL have been impressed with all aspects of the Auckland event, and recognise the importance of the tournament in a rugby stronghold. But he was non-committal when asked if the NRL wanted the event to stay in Auckland.
“I haven’t got a point of view on that,” said Grant.
“We will give everyone an opportunity but I am very committed to being respectful of the risks that Ateed and Duco took and to the relationship we have built. They are all things that will weigh in our decision.”
Grant expects a decision to be made sooner rather than later.
“If in the event it is going to be another location, you have to give them a lot of lead time.”
The situation has some irony. Duco and Ateed spent more than 18 months trying to convince the NRL the Nines could be a valuable proposition. And now it has taken off, they have to convince them again they deserve to retain it.
“None of this stuff is clear-cut,” said Grant.
“It’s a matter of balancing what we want to achieve and what is the return that we are going to get out of that. It’s a normal procurement process and it is the right way of doing it because everyone gets an opportunity, everyone gets a heads-up and then we get to make a decision.”
The Nines has become more than a two-day tournament. There are some genuine legacy opportunities and it gives league a footprint here for a week. It’s also become a valuable event proposition for Ateed and provides capacity for Eden Park.
Ateed CEO Brett O’Riley is enthusiastic about the future.
“The last tournament was a great success and the relationship [with the NRL] has never been stronger,” said O’Riley, who does not think event fatigue will be a factor beyond 2018.
“We’ll always be mindful that there will be competition – and the NRL may choose to run a competitive process. Hopefully not. But we will be doing everything we can to make sure we can secure a deal beyond the five years … if the equation works.”
Duco chief executive Martin Snedden was also positive, but pragmatic: “The NRL know it is a good event and is ideal to get the season under way. It also provides a showcase in a rugby-mad city and I think they would be reluctant to risk league losing a foothold.”