Rugby league’s most promising young forward Jason Taumalolo was born in Auckland and raised nearby at Māngere, the same struggle street multi-cultural area as New Zealand’s former Prime Minister David Lange and the former heavy weight boxing champ David Tua.
But in a blight for the game and a setback for international footy, he is eligible to play for Australia against his own country.
The decision to turn his back on New Zealand, which he represented as a junior Kiwi in 2010 and again last year, must have been painful, but the game should never have put the brilliant 18-year-old in a win-lose position like this.
Queensland Origin coach Mal Meninga would have pointed out that if he pledges his allegiance to the Maroons he will earn a fortune playing three State of Origins every year for the next 14 years. With average match payments of, say, $20,000, that is
$60,000 every year during his career, or a total of $840,000.
Meninga is a god like figure to a wet behind the ears kid and combined with a manager who would earn around an incremental $60,000 out of the rort, it would be near impossible to say no.
Big Mal also would have rightly pointed out that although he is a Kiwi, he would also be able to play for Australia and earn even more money.
This is a case of money versus country, and powerful men exploiting poorly written rules at the expense of the greater good – the game of rugby league.
The new Australian RL Commission must rewrite the rules of who can play State of Origin and who can play for their country. The number one rule must be that you cannot play either unless you have been nationalised as an Australian.
Taumalolo moved to Australia at age 13 and I first saw him play at 15 and he was a standout as the biggest player, but incredibly had the rare ability to step off both feet at pace before the line, a feat that few senior players have mastered. Thoughts of witnessing the next Beetson flashed through my mind.
It was no surprise to see the kid promoted as the youngest player ever to make his debut for the Cowboys, aged 17 years, two months and 21 days.
No one can blame Meninga for wanting Taumalolo, or John Ribot signing Greg Inglis when he was born in NSW, as these are rare talents and the rules allow for them to be handed a Maroon jersey.
Origin will always flourish as the brand is so strong, but the Kiwis cannot afford to lose the Taumalolo’s if they ever hope to be the leading rugby league nation.