Toyota Cowboys hooker Rory Kostjasyn has had the honour of carrying the NRL Auckland Nines trophy into today’s official jersey launch in Sydney.
The last of the 16 players to be introduced in the fashion-parade style event featuring the jerseys of each NRL club, Kostjasyn is set to again play a prominent role in North Queensland’s title defence on Saturday 31 January and Sunday 1 February at Auckland’s Eden Park.
The Cowboys will need to make at least five changes to their victorious squad with James Tamou unavailable following recent neck surgery and Joel Riethmuller, Tariq Sims, Curtis Rona, Anthony Mitchell no longer part of North Queensland’s NRL ranks.
There’s no shortage of interest from those outside the 2014 team about making the trip to NZ for the title defence, including from Dally M Medal winner Johnathan Thurston.
“I think I’ll have about eight or 10 weeks of training under my belt by the time the Nines roll around, so I’m hoping to be in pretty good shape by then,” Thurston said on Wednesday.
“It will be good fun (to play), but that will be a decision for the coaching staff to make.”
The Cowboys will play pool matches against Melbourne, Penrith and South Sydney to decide which two teams advance to the quarter-finals.
“The success of this year’s tournament, which attracted over 90,000 fans and many star NRL players, shows that this event has the potential to be New Zealand's biggest summer event,” NRL head of commercial Paul Kind said.
“It is a fantastic opportunity for fans to see all 16 clubs in the one place at Eden Park.
“This is also an opportunity to grow our game in New Zealand and for our clubs and players to share in the spectacle.”
2015 Auckland Nines pool draw:
• Rangitoto pool: Eels, Sea Eagles, Knights, Dragons
• Waiheke pool: Storm, Cowboys, Panthers, Rabbitohs
• Piha pool: Roosters, Broncos, Bulldogs, Sharks
• Hunua Ranges pool: Tigers, Warriors, Raiders, Titans