Auckland's rugby league heartland opened its arms to the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys on Thursday as the travel-weary team shook off the jetlag and embraced Nines footy.
With the NRL Auckland Nines beginning at Eden Park on Saturday, the Cowboys met some local fans with a visit to the Mount Albert Rugby League Club, located 10 minutes’ drive from Auckland CBD.
The visit proved a refreshing end to a hectic two days for the Cowboys, who arrived in New Zealand a day later than planned after flight delays forced an overnight stay in Brisbane.
But having arrived at their Auckland base, the team was rapt to meet the local league community, with the Thursday visit made possible by the combined efforts of five clubs, and Mt Albert Grammar School.
Clubs’ representative Junior Toko said the strength of regular junior rugby league in the central Auckland area meant the Cowboys’ visit was always going to be a hit.
“We’re thrilled to have the Cowboys here … these players are held in such high regard,” Mr Toko said.
After being treated to a Maori song and dance, Cowboys players and staff were greeted in the traditional fashion – the hongi – by the student performers, who attend nearby Mt Albert Grammar School.
Led by Nines captain Gavin Cooper, the players signed autographs before the Mt Albert Grammar kids performed a powerful version of the haka.
The Cowboys will ramp up their Nines preparation on Friday with a training session following the official tournament launch at Aotea Square.
The team are drawn in the Hunua Pool, alongside the Roosters, Raiders and Rabbitohs, kicking off with their first pool game at 2.40pm NZ (11.40am Qld) on Saturday.