The 2016 Hooked Hong Kong Rugby League Nines, just the second tournament of its sort in Hong Kong, was held on May 2 Labour Day in Hong Kong. The day was a great success with 8 teams, a 100% increase from the 2015 edition, introducing even more Hong Kong people to Rugby League.
On the field new club the South Pacific All Stars won the tournament defeating a gallant Hong Kong Hunters, playing their second tournament, in a hard fought battle in the grand final.
In parallel with the Nines tournament a Hong Kong Tag football tournament was held. This provided an opportunity for even more Hong Kongers to get involved in Rugby League through the non-contact version of the sport.
The weather played its part on a magnificent day with mild weather and a slight breeze at Kings Park on the Kowloon peninsula. The first game of the day featured the 2015 HKRL defending champions, the Mong Kok Creepers, take on the newcomers from Causeway Bay, the Victorious Secrets.
The defending champions gave the Secrets new boys a Rugby League lesson and the day was set. Hong Kong Hunters and the Wan Chai Warriors were two returning teams from the 2015 nines and they battled out a tough arm wrestle in the second match of the day. It was clear from the outset that the Hunters had set their sights on going better than the third place in 2015. The Hunters were ironically coached by Dave Hunter who managed to instill in the Hunters a game plan which was built around control and a tough middle third of the field.
Pool 2 commenced with 2 new sides the South Pacific All Stars from Lantau island taking on the Tsim Sha Tsui Renegades. The Renegades were thought to be a mix and match of players unwanted by other clubs but they shocked the great crowd at Kings Park by putting the more fancied All Stars to the sword in their opening match. The Renegades were ably led by Toby Lei who flew in from the Rugby League hotbed of Sydney for the tournament.
Lei is arguably the most decorated Cantonese rugby league player of all time his CV consisting of Queensland Cup trials and numerous seasons for the Clovelly Crocodiles. By the end of the day Lei had earned the nickname “Chinese Arty”, named after former Queensland and Australia captain Arthur Beetson. The final game of the first round saw the 2015 runners up the Coastal Cobras take on the inexperienced newcomers the Sheung Wan Wild Boars.
It was no surprise that the Jason Fairleigh led Cobras ran away with this match due to a much larger forward pack and a better rugby league IQ but the Wild Boars inaugural performance had the more appreciative fans eager to see their next game based on the style of play shown by the Boars. Stand outs on the day for the Boars were Ringo Lung, Gary Yang and Felix Long. The Boars lacked size but made up for it in heart.
Other than a very short down pour the weather was great and the crowd were buzzing. The attendance was not recorded but anecdotal figures of five times the 2015 nines tournament crowd were being thrown around by the exuberant crowd. The Tsing Tao and Gweilo beer was flowing and the festival atmosphere at the ground was likened to the Auckland Nines tournament held prior to the National Rugby League season in Auckland each year.
The business end of the tournament arrived and this sorted out the contenders from the pretenders. The Hong Kong Hunters secured their spot in the grand final with a win against the Mong Kok Creepers a side which are quickly becoming arch rivals to the Hunters. Tensions soared but the arm wrestle was won by the Hunters. The Hunters stand outs were Siam Sattayaphan, Paddy Balfour and Neil Taylor. The victory was a hard fought one but it meant the Hunters went one better than 2015.
The Creepers were resigned to watching the Grand Final from the sideline. The crowd were however not disappointed, it could hardly be said that the Creepers are anybody’s second favorite side.
The finalist from pool 2 was not clear cut and was not decided until the final match of round robin. The South Pacific All Stars were starting to gel as a unit and were a completely different side from the one that lost their first game against the Renegades. The Cobras didn’t really have much answer to the All Stars big and skillful forward pack who put together the most complete team performance of the tournament. Even that convincing victory was not enough to secure the grand final spot.
The last game of round robin gave the Tsim Sha Tsui Renegades a chance of knocking the All Stars out of the grand final, however the task was considered an Everest, they had to win by 26 points or more. Despite a great effort from the unfancied Renegades they could not score enough points to get into the grand final despite their final round victory.
So the second grand final was set. The Hunters versus the All Stars, two new finalists, one team a two tournament veteran the other at their first nines tournament. The crowd expected a very tight tussle but given the forward pack and the form the All Stars ran into in the final two games of pool play the smart money was on the Lantau island mob. The pre game sentiment appeared correct when the All Stars flew out of the gates putting 3 unanswered tries before the Hunters could even get themselves in the game.
The short kick offs proved ultra effective for All Stars and the weight of possession they had, despite the courageous defense of the Hunters, ultimately led to a blow out. The All Stars were deserved champions of the 2016 Hooked Hong Kong Rugby League Nines.
The tournament was a great success and built significantly from the 2015 tournament. Hong Kong Rugby League chairman James Hall was delighted with the event “Its an unbelievable outcome, it has been a lot of hard work but to see what went on out here today at Kings Park nearly brought a tear to my eye. To see so many people getting active and playing this greatest game, this game we call Rugby League is a magnificent sight. In particular I was so proud to see the games played in the greatest spirit, hard but fair, and seeing players of different sizes, creeds and races coming together to enjoy this tournament, it really is incredible”.
Hall added that a tournament like this couldn’t happen without the sponsors “We owe a hell of a lot to our sponsors ICG, Gweilo, Rula Bula and in particular Hooked, without them there is no way this tournament would have been so good”
Hong Kong Rugby League will look to go from strength to strength over the rest of 2016. More events are on the horizon including a Hong Kong Residents tour to Pattaya in Thailand at the end of the month to take on the Thailand Residents. Saturday night skills nights will be hosted in Saturday nights in June to get experienced players and newcomers to practice.
A side of origin game is being organized for later in the year – Islands versus Kowloon and New Territories, a concept that will hopefully gain traction and open up the opportunity for more and more traditional 13-a- side Rugby League to be played in Hong Kong. If the 2016 Hooked HKRL Nines are anything to go by the Rugby League fans of Hong Kong have a lot to get excited about in the near future.
Summary of results at the 2016 HKRL Nines
|Pool||Team 1||Team 2||Score|
|1||Mong Kok Creepers||Victorious Secrets||44-0|
|1||Hong Kong Hunters||Wan Chai Warriors||10-4|
|2||South Pacific All Stars||Tsim Sha Tsui Renegades||0-11|
|2||Coastal Cobras||Sheung Wan Wild Boars||28-8|
|1||Hong Kong Hunters||Victorious Secrets||23-9|
|1||Wan Chai Warriors||Mong Kok Creepers||0-28|
|2||Coastal Cobras||Tsim Sha Tsui Renegades||17-9|
|2||Sheung Wan Wild Boars||South Pacific All Stars||11-33|
|1||Wan Chai Warriors||Victorious Secrets||33-14|
|1||Mong Kok Creepers||Hong Kong Hunters||15-17|
|2||South Pacific All Stars||Coastal Cobras||29-11|
|2||Sheung Wan Wild Boars||Tsim Sha Tsui Renegades||19-29|
|Grand Final||Hong Kong Hunters||South Pacific All Stars||8-28|
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