Clint Gutherson will lead a stacked Eels side at the Nine tournament. Photo: Richard Wainwright
Clint Gutherson will lead a stacked Eels side at the Nine tournament. Photo: Richard Wainwright

Anasta: Eels have the edge in Perth NRL Nines

THERE is no more exciting way to kick off the 2020 NRL season than with the Nines tournament in Perth this weekend.

Rugby league fans love blistering speed, flat-out attack and incredible tries and that's exactly what we're going to witness during the two-day tournament.

Taking a look at the squads there's the perfect mix of representative stars, exciting young guns and former NRL legends.

Watch all 30 games of the NRL 9s LIVE and ad-break free on Fox League and streamed on Foxtel Now.

So who are the favourites heading into this weekend?

The key to success in Nines is balance - you need to have a blend of size, speed and skill.

The extra space on the field can fool teams into thinking they can spin the ball wide early, but just like any game of footy, you need to win the battle in the middle first.

When looking at the squads for this weekend, the team that stands out for me are the Parramatta Eels.

I love the look of their spine with Clint Gutherson, Mitch Moses and Will Smith, all great ball players who can create for their outside men and also take the line on themselves.

They've got creative big men in Shaun Lane, Marata Niukore and Ryan Matterson who can draw in defenders and get an offload away. And two of the best finishes in the world in Maika Sivo and Blake Ferguson who can bust a game open from anywhere.

The Eels have 14 wins from 20 games in this format of the game, better than any other NRL club and they have won the big dance before.

Shaun Johnson will be a threat for the Sharks. Picture: Brett Costello
Shaun Johnson will be a threat for the Sharks. Picture: Brett Costello

Nines standouts

You could chose 20 players to watch this weekend but there's two guys in particular that I'm looking forward to watching this weekend.

Sharks playmaker Shaun Johnson is arguably the best Nines player in the world. With his touch football background, Johnson relishes the extra space that Nines football provides.

With his speed and ability to beat an opponent one-on-one, Johnson will be a nightmare for opposition defensive lines.

The other player I'm excited to watch is Broncos forward David Fifita.

Fifita was the standout player at the World Cup Nines at the end of last season and promises to be a handful again this weekend.

He has the perfect blend of speed, footwork and strength which makes him the ideal forward for this format.

Cowboys rookie Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow is one to watch.
Cowboys rookie Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow is one to watch.

Rising stars to shine

There's a host of young guns to check out including Broncos rookie Tesi Nui who was a standout for Tonga in the World Cup Nines last season.

You've also got young playmakers like Tannah Boyd at the Titans who'll be looking to press his claims for a spot in the halves this season. And I'm looking forward to seeing how Cooper Johns goes for the Storm.

But the young player I'm looking most forward to watching is Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow from the Cowboys.

At 18 years of age he stands at 186cm, weighs in at 89kg and has impressed everyone who's laid eyes on him through the junior ranks.

Corey Parker will line up for the Broncos. Picture: Peter Wallis
Corey Parker will line up for the Broncos. Picture: Peter Wallis

Advice for returning retirees

Hats off to former NRL stars Kurt Gidley, Corey Parker, Jason Nightingale, Pat Richards and Andrew Ryan who are all pulling on their boots again this weekend.

I remember coming out of retirement to play for the Roosters in the Nines in 2016 and even though I'd only been out of the game for two years, I was blown away by the size, speed and physicality of the modern-day player.

It wasn't until I was one-on-one with Eels winger Semi Radradra that I realised how far out of my depth I was. I remember him running past/through me like I wasn't even there.

The five guys strapping on the boots this weekend are all super fit and will put in 100 per cent, but I won't lie, I'd love to see my good mate Corey Parker come up against Mika Sivo this weekend to see how he handles it.

Watch all 30 games of the NRL 9s LIVE and ad-break free on Fox League and streamed on Foxtel Now.