Defending champions North Queensland have been drawn in the strongest of the four pools for the 2015 NRL Auckland Nines.
The draw was conducted in Sydney today and the Cowboys have been included in the newly named Waiheke Pool alongside the Melbourne Storm, Penrith Panthers and South Sydney Rabbitohs for the two-day tournament at Eden Park on Saturday 31 January and Sunday 1 February.
All four clubs finished in the top six on the 2014 NRL ladder with three of them still remaining in contention for the premiership.
By comparison, the Hunua pool contains four clubs who did not make the top eight.
The Cowboys will start their title defence against Melbourne in the third game on day one and will back up later in the day against the Rabbitohs.
Their final pool match will be against Penrith.
The top two teams from each pool will advance to the quarter-final stage.
In an addition to the Nines program, Australia will face New Zealand in three women’s matches across the two days.
“The spirit of the Auckland Nines is to create an event that we can develop and grow and the decision to include the women’s teams was the next natural step,” NRL football operations manager Nathan McGuirk said.
“Their inclusion creates more games and provides longer breaks for all teams participating as well as showcasing some of the best female players in the world.”
Lovers of Auckland from around the world were given the unique opportunity to play a part in the 2015 tournament by choosing names for each of the four pools, with the most popular choices being made the pool names.
The public’s choices showcase the diversity of the Auckland region’s most iconic visitor destinations.
St George Illawarra Dragons, Parramatta Eels, Newcastle Knights, Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Melbourne Storm, North Queensland Cowboys, Penrith Panthers, South Sydney Rabbitohs
Sydney Roosters, Brisbane Broncos, Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
Wests Tigers, Gold Coast Titans, New Zealand Warriors, Canberra Raiders