ARLC must prioritise Test rugby league
I do not have a real problem with Sam Kasiano being selected in Origin. I can take it. It’s not quite right in the current environment of opinion, sure. But that’s ok.
We all have ideas on how to avoid it in the future.
Not because people like Sam should be made ineligible, but because we hope to never be put in a position again where we see a potential key New Zealand player have to leave his country and weaken his national team, just to throw on a state jersey for his adopted county.
Indeed, no. Not when we know New Zealand would kill to have him playing. They need all the good players they can get. Now, and in the future.
Sam may be a lost cause now for the Kiwis. We don’t know what he thinks, will do, or if he will gain eventual Queensland selection.
But just think: what if a future “Sam” was so engrossed in the idea of playing for the Kiwis, that as soon as Mal approached him, he would say, “No thunks, mate. I want to ply for the Keeeewiis. Und theet’s theet.”
Why, because he has been itching to chuck on a jersey since he was a kid, and what’s more, the rewards to play for his country (above sheer prestige alone) are financially worth it.
ARL chairman John Grant recently spoke about the Kasiano eligibility issue. The issue has caused a furore among fans of the game (if the 138+ comments on the Daily Telegraph site are anything to go by).
But it just doesn’t seem right does it, Kiwis in Blue and Maroon jerseys?
Recently the ARLC made changes to the eligibility test.
Grant said the criteria that had been established to cover representative eligibility had to be the main guide when it came to Origin. If Sam Kasiano is qualified to play State of Origin for Queensland, then he has every right to play it – and if the New Zealand rugby league wants to change that situation, it needs to get tougher at international board level.
”Players have some decisions to make about which country they can choose to play for, and the players who play in our competition have some decisions to make about whether they play State of Origin,” he said.
There are five levels of criteria for selection and a player needs to meet three of the five. Of those five, Sam makes three. That’s 60%, so if he wants to, he will not be stopped.
Somewhere deep inside us all, we hope Kasiano will be proud to be (or have been) a Kiwi. But only Sam knows who he wants to play for.
Grant said yesterday, “The first decision (Kasiano) should be making, what we’d like him to make, is if he is going to play for Australia,”;
“Now, if the rules allow him to play for Australia then clearly he’s got to be allowed for State of Origin.
“I don’t think the State of Origin rules are going to change, I think more the issue is the international rules.
“Internationals should come before State of Origin. You either play for Australia or New Zealand or whatever before you contemplate about either New South Wales or Queensland.”
It’s clear to me that the commission is setting things right with comments like this. You don’t restore an old car to its former gleaming glory in a day. Such is it with rugby league. But you do buy the right parts, and you do go about the business of restoring it in the proper manner.
On the one hand, one may say he is not going far enough. But this is not an issue that the ARLC itself can solve. He later called upon the NZRL to get into the mix at the next board meeting, which makes sense.
If anyone was doubting whether Grant knew anything of rugby league’s workings, they would be wrong.
However, it’s one thing to have the rules in place, yet another for people to want to adhere to them. Oh, people are always trying to sneak through the cracks, if the price is right. Look at Mal Meninga and Ricky Stuart right now, courting players to throw on state jerseys.
If it were me, I would not go near Kiwi players, for fear of tampering. But I can understand Mal and Ricky. They will be wanting to take any advantage they can.
Is it enough to leave it up to New Zealand? No. The NRL has a responsibility to assist with this issue also. But New Zealand must be doing its best to make players want to play for the Kiwis. They need to work harder to instil youngsters with Kiwi pride, so that they would not dream of switching to Australia, ala Sam Burgess.
I have no doubt that packed out Test matches against highly competitive opposition year in, year out will generate money to match Origin. Would it not be great if we had two series each year without fail that were massive – Origin and Tests?
I have a few ideas that might allow this to happen:
Loyalty payments for Kiwi players given over time, in accordance with their service would assist the Kiwis to build a strong team. There should be immediate bonuses to such a funding pool should they win a series or complete a certain number of years of service. We don’t want any potential or current Kiwi player feel like he is missing out just because he’s chosen the joy of playing for his nation over immediate Origin gain. In order to fund this, the ARLC could provide the NZRL with subsidies until the team becomes more financially strong.
Another idea is Kiwi Origin. Whether North v South Island, Auckland v everywhere else or New Zealand in the State of Origin, there is a significant gap that could be filled by New Zealand players participating in some form of Origin contest.
This may be facilitated by shortening the NRL season.
But the best thing the NRL could do is start up a second New Zealand team. Firstly, a second NZ team could join the Toyota Cup, with a view to building a squad in three years time. This would allow the team to be competitive from the start, unlike the usual case with expansion teams (take note, Gold Coast Suns).
Overall, we need to take the strengths of Origin and the things that are common for successful sporting teams and replicate them to the Test arena for NZ. We need players choosing to be a part of the Kiwi side because they truly want to. Financial return is just one thing. What of belonging and representing?
What if those two things also meant the player got to showcase his skills in front of big crowds and big TV audiences, and be lauded in the paper for days on end, just like in Origin?
And what of the youth coming through? Maybe this generation is lost, so let’s not lose the next one.