NRL stars captivate locals
Hundreds of young, rugby league fanatics had the opportunity of a lifetime in Auckland on Thursday night when they got to meet some of the biggest names in the NRL.
Both the North Queensland Cowboys and Vodafone Warriors travelled to Auckland’s Mt Albert Rugby League Club as part of a promotion for the Downer NRL Auckland Nines - played over the weekend.
Once the teams were welcomed with a traditional powhiri, fans were able to snap selfies, get autographs, and have a chat with some of the heroes of the game.
NRL stars Shaun Johnson and Jonathan Thurston were the obvious fan favourites, but Kiwi talent Jason Taumalolo and Warriors legend Ruben Wiki were also inundated with photos and signature requests.
Ryan Hoffman, former Warriors captain, said it was an awesome opportunity to give back to the rugby league community.
‘‘You can see the excitement and it’s great they are coming out to see us,’’ Hoffman said.
‘‘They don’t have to do it, they choose to do it, so to have that support is great.
‘‘I was a kid once, I was doing what these kids are doing so its always good to give back to our young supporters.’’
For the Cowboys’ Gavin Cooper, having Kiwi stars like Jason Taumalolo in the team helped increase their support with local fans.
‘‘Everyone comes up and says he’s their favourite player so having guys on the team like that is pretty special.
‘‘A lot of them call the Cowboys their second team, there’s lots of Warriors jerseys, but we’ll take that over here.’’
The Cowboys won the Nines’ inaugural tournament in 2014, and Cooper admitted there was a lot of pressure on them to win it again this year.
‘‘Having a pretty big name side on paper, I’m not sure if it’s good or bad for us,’’ he said.
‘‘There’s a little bit of pressure but we’ll put that all on JT’s (Thurston’s) shoulders.’’
Hoffman was equally as excited for the tournament and said it was something he always put his hand up for when asked to play.
‘‘I’ve always loved playing in it,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s an exciting concept, and it’s a great vehicle to boost our great sport.’’
Warriors star Shaun Johnson had lines of fans waiting by his tent during his side’s visit to Mt Albert Rugby League Club.