The Auckland Nines might have crept up on a few people, but with January racing by, the start of the season is almost here. The squad is due to be out in the next week or so, but in the meantime, here’s a look at who I’d like to see run out onto Eden Park on 31 January.
Sam Tomkins — The hot-stepping Englishman who came with a huge reputation. Although he started the season with a few errors, he improved with every week in the NRL and will be looking to have a massive year in 2015.
Konrad Hurrell — I’ve checked the weather report and it looks like a Category 5 Hurrellcane is due to hit the Mt Eden area the weekend of 31 Jan–1 Feb. According to the Saffir-Sampson Hurricane Wind Scale, that means catastrophic damage for anything that crosses the Hurrellcane’s path. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. But, in all seriousness, who wants to tackle this guy?
Ngani Laumape — Strong ball-runner who made big improvements last year, especially in defence. If Manu moves into the forwards for this tournament, Ngani is the perfect replacement to take the tackle 1 hit-up and earn those precious first 10 metres.
David Fusitua (if fit) — Another young player who impressed in the top grade in 2014. Great skills, including a serious offload. Had some injury troubles near the back end of last year but if he’s fit, I’d love to see him get another chance to impress.
Jonathan Wright — I expect the coaching staff will use the Nines to introduce a few of the new boys into the squad. The fact that Wright can cover both centre and wing makes him a valuable tournament squad member who’ll be eager to show Warriors fans what he can do.
Matt Allwood — After signing for the Warriors, Allwood failed to see out the rest of his Canberra contract and rumours are it was alcohol-related so you’d think he’d be keen to start his Warriors career on a good note. With a few other young centres emerging at the club, I’m keen to see what Allwood can do and where he might rank in the pecking order.
Solomone Kata — A ball of muscle who seems to thrive on trampling as many people as possible, much like the Hurrellcane. The more experience he gets at the top level, the better.
Tuimoala Lolohea — This kid has immense talent. Anyone who’s watched the U20s for the past couple of years can tell you that. He bulked up a lot last year and was used at fullback for the NSW Cup side during the second half of the season. I still think his future is in the halves and his combination with Shaun Johnson could be lethal in a few years’ time.
Shaun ‘Magic’ Johnson – Speed to burn and skills most people can only dream of. He’s maturing every season but still hasn’t lost any of that ability to create magic on a football field. Lit up this tournament last year and I’m expecting a repeat performance.
Siliva Havili — Huge prospect who has found opportunities hard to come by behind Nathan Friend. Things could get even tougher for him this year if Thomas Leuluai also sees time at dummy-half, but the Warriors would be well-advised to keep progressing Siliva before the other NRL teams start circling.
Manu Vatuvei — The Beast in space is still one of the best sights in the NRL, but it sounds like Andrew McFadden is keen to use this tournament as an opportunity to trial Manu into the forwards. Manu’s always the first to volunteer his body for a hit up in the 13-man game and should attract multiple defenders as he approaches the line — then send them scattering on arrival.
Charlie Gubb — I’ve always thought Charlie Gubb has a big future in the NRL. He plays with huge heart and seems to love crashing and bashing with the other big bodies. Charlie was used in the back row off the bench in a few games last year but hopefully they’ll simply ask him to run hard and straight during this tournament.
Suaia Matagi — Suaia’s story has touched many people during his short time in the NRL and the energy he brings to the side is immense. Was picked in the ‘Team of the Tournament’ in 2014.
Sam Lisone — Sam spent time in the NSW Cup last year but really showed his talent and leadership in NYC finals campaign. Lion-hearted player with an offload and a knack for scoring tries — it would be great to see how he’d cope with the atmosphere and the step up in intensity.
Dominique Peyroux — I’ve often wondered if Dominique’s versatility has counted against him at the Warriors. He’s a guy who rarely seems to put a foot wrong, is a strong defender, but doesn’t stand out among the crowd. He’s the kind of player every squad needs and hopefully he’ll get his opportunity to shine.
Sione Lousi — An all-energy type player who at times looks world class but at other times can be error-prone. His stock increased last year off the back of the Nines and his wide range of skills seem suited to this format.
John Palavi — Matthew Elliott picked Dr Palavi to start in Round 1 last year but with Elliott’s departure, the Palavi M.D. fell out of favour. He’s someone who’s prepared to put in the hard yards so I’d like to seem him get another shot in 2015.
Bodene Thompson — Another new Warrior who should be excited to be back in NZ. At a pinch he could probably cover prop and/or centre, so would add extra versatility to an already powerful-looking squad.
Have I forgotten anyone you’d like to see? Anyone there who doesn’t deserve their spot?