Johnathan Thurston and Shaun Johnson will headline a spectacular line-up of rugby league's greatest players at the 2017 Downer NRL Auckland Nines.
The superstar duo are committed to playing in the February 4 and 5 pre-season rugby league showpiece – with tickets on sale from Thursday.
Thurston, who made a cameo appearance at this year's tournament in the Beko Legends Big Kick competition, said he could not wait to take the field alongside his Cowboys teammates in 2017.
"I had a small taste of the NRL Nines this year, and the atmosphere was simply incredible," Thurston said. "I made up my mind right away that I would be back to play in the 2017 tournament – and hopefully lead the Cowboys to another Nines title.
"The guys who played in 2014 when we won it have all said just what an incredible experience that was – and it's something I can't wait to find out for myself."
North Queensland Toyota Cowboys coach Paul Green and General Manager Football Peter Parr confirmed their club would welcome the presence of its premier player and captain.
"Every year he's always put pressure on me, being that attacking style suits his game and I think he'd really flourish," Green said.
"Winning the inaugural tournament, I think the tournament holds a pretty special place in the club's history."
Cowboys General Manager Football Peter Parr said: "The main reason we've decided to let Johnathan play is that he wants to play.
"He's achieved a lot in the game, he's achieved more than most players have in the game but the one thing he hasn't done is play in this tournament, and he's very keen to play so we've decided to let him do it," Parr said.
Former rugby league legend and Immortal Andrew Johns was excited to learn Thurston will be playing at the 2017 Auckland Nines.
"Everyone will want to turn up and watch Johnathan Thurston play," Johns said. "I sat with him the whole tournament last year. He was so enthusiastic about it and wanted to be a part of it so it goes to show how big the tournament is – the biggest drawcard in rugby league is going to be there putting his skills on," Johns said.
The second premier player to confirm he will be playing in the 2017 tournament - Shaun Johnson - who led the Warriors to the 2016 final with a spectacular individual effort, said that coming so close had made him even more determined to claim an NRL Auckland Nines title for the host club.
"Making it to the final this year in front of our home fans was an awesome buzz," Johnson said.
"Obviously it was a real let down not to go the whole way, but we are determined to go one better in 2017. That won't be easy when you look at the talent the other clubs have on offer. I'll admit I'm excited to see JT play – he'll put on a show."
Martin Snedden, the chief executive of Downer NRL Nines promoters Duco Events, said the presence of the glamour pair in 2017 would add to an already impressive list of star players who have graced the event.
"Over its first three years the Downer NRL Auckland Nines has attracted a who's who of the game's greatest players," Snedden said.
"Fans of world class sport have had the chance to see the likes of Sam Thaiday, Paul Gallen, Semi Radradra, Benji Marshall, Darius Boyd, Roger Tuivasa-Scheck, Greg Bird, Robbie Farah and the Burgess brothers light up Eden Park," he said.
"To date 48 Australian internationals and 44 Kiwi test players and 45 State of Origin stars, together with a host of Pacific nations test players have appeared in the tournament, and that number will increase significantly in 2017."
Grant Fenn, the chief executive of naming rights sponsor Downer, said: "We are looking forward to another wonderful weekend of exciting rugby league and outstanding entertainment in Auckland and I am sure tickets will sell quickly."
NRL chief execuitve Todd Greenberg said the tournament would once again be a fitting way to kick the season off.
"Nines is a celebration of some of the best of rugby league," Mr Greenberg said.
"The weekend is all about the colour of our clubs and our fans and the incredible athleticism of our players. I'm sure the 2017 version will once again be a rolling highlights reel."
Mayor Len Brown said Auckland would once again be the place to be over Waitangi Weekend.
"It is going to be huge, with all the unmissable, edge-of-your-seat action of the Nines on Saturday and Sunday at Eden Park, Western Springs rocking to Guns N' Roses on Saturday night, and the great Waitangi Day events on Monday. What a weekend!"
Tickets can be purchased now via ticketek at ticketek.co.nz/nines
- Date: 4-5 Feb 2017
- Venue: Eden Park
- GA tickets: On sale from Thursday 6 October at Ticketek
- Corporate hospitality packages: On sale now - contact Donna Churton, phone +64 309-2400 or +64 27 545-5353
- International travel packages: On sale now from Sportsnet Holidays
- All 16 NRL clubs together in Auckland
- Featuring 288+ star players
- 48 Australian internationals; 44 Kiwi test players; 45 State of Origin stars; 68 Pacific Nation reps have appeared at the NRL Auckland Nines so far
- 31 action packed games
- 9 players per team, 9 minute halves
- NZ $2.6 million in prize money
- Over 80,000 fans expected over 2 days
First published on NRL.com.