Tristan Sailor of the Dragons crosses for a try against the Sharks at HBF Park. Picture: Paul Kane/Getty
Tristan Sailor of the Dragons crosses for a try against the Sharks at HBF Park. Picture: Paul Kane/Getty

Underdogs cause huge upsets in NRL Nines

FOOTY is back - and kicking down the door at the NRL Nines is the underdog.

In stifling heat, the new season launched in Perth on Friday night with the NRL Nines tournament, setting up a tense day of finals that is poised to be without a string heavyweights.

Tournament favourites - and the tip to win it by the majority of their rivals - Parramatta have one knee on the canvas ahead of Saturday's elimination matches after suffering a 13-10 loss to pool rivals and rank outsiders Canterbury.

Also facing a sudden and surprising exit from the kick-and-giggle format are several sides many thought would thrive at the Nines, including second-favourites Cronulla, the usually damaging Warriors, the Broncos and fourth favourites the Rabbitohs.

With the temperature gauge reaching 35C, the Bulldogs, Panthers, Knights, Cowboys, Titans, Tigers, Dragons and Sea Eagles all contributed to the day of upsets in front of a crowd of 10,128 at HBF Park.

Corey Harawira-Naera scores the match-winning try for the Bulldogs to beat tournament favourites the Parramatta Eels. Picture: Getty Images
Corey Harawira-Naera scores the match-winning try for the Bulldogs to beat tournament favourites the Parramatta Eels. Picture: Getty Images

The major injury concerns from the opening day are Brisbane's Anthony Milford with a hamstring complaint and Rabbitohs forward Ethan Lowe, who hobbled from the field with a leg injury.

Bookies had installed the Bulldogs second-last in the order of betting at $34 to win the tournament.

 

 

 

But Dean Pay's boys from Belmore face Cronulla - another tournament heavyweight and opening day flop -  today to advance to the quarter-finals.

"We have got them (Eels) in round one of the season, so we wanted to make a statement here,'' Bulldogs captain Corey Harawira-Naera said.

"I can see where this club is going and hopefully - and I know it's only Nines - we can show our fans what I see.

"I know we're the underdogs and for me personally, I thrive on it.''

Panthers giant Viliame Kikau scored two tries in his side's demolition of the Roosters. Picture: AAP
Panthers giant Viliame Kikau scored two tries in his side's demolition of the Roosters. Picture: AAP

In the hottest part of the afternoon, the Panthers were lethal in their opening pool win against an almost unrecognisable Roosters side, winning 35-0 nil with damaging backrower Viliame Kikau scoring two tries.

"It was just full-on the whole time, as soon as we came off we were being given a card to go back in,'' Kikau said.

"It was hectic - but it was good to get the win.

Asked about the impact of the heat in what is the first official hit-out for every NRL club, Kikau said: "It was really tough, but it was lucky for us that we train in 45 degrees back in Penrith - so we're sort of used to this weather.

"I don't know how every other team takes it, but we're here to compete and if we win the Nines, that's a bonus for us.''

Kurt Gidley shows us he’s still got it, being instrumental in the Knights' big win over the Warriors. Picture: AAP
Kurt Gidley shows us he’s still got it, being instrumental in the Knights' big win over the Warriors. Picture: AAP

The Nines provides a string of ex-players to also return for their former clubs and one of those was Newcastle's Kurt Gidley.

The former NSW Origin star was superb - admitting after the Knights 34-0 nil win over the Warriors he'd received several messages from fellow 'Old Boys' Andrew Johns and Paul 'the Chief' Harragon.

 

"Be careful, be safe, is what they said,'' Gidley said with a smile.

"I went in more nervous than previous games that I played, but I've been really grateful for the way the boys and the coaching staff accepted me into the group.

"It's obviously a club that I'm really proud of and to pull this jersey on again, is great.''

Josh Kerr scored two tries for the Dragons in their win over Cronulla. Picture: AAP
Josh Kerr scored two tries for the Dragons in their win over Cronulla. Picture: AAP

Plenty of coaches, players and fans view the Nines as nothing more than a meaningless 18 minutes of end-to-end footy and perhaps the chance for the NRL to promote rugby league to new markets.

However, there's others, like Dragons big man Josh Kerr - outstanding for his side, scoring two tries - using the tournament as an audition for a starting spot in Paul McGregor's front row.

"It's obviously a massive platform for us to do that - because he's (McGregor) here and the kick-chases, effort plays and all those little things, they're what coaches look for,'' Kerr said.

"I would love that starting jumper, but you've got to take the first step and playing a lucky game today, I've put myself in a good spot.

"But we've got another day to go.''

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