International rugby league could be huge
Kangaroos player Jharal Yow Yeh takes the ball forward during the Anzac Test match between Australia and New Zealand. AAP Image/Dave Hunt
Without doubt State of Origin has become a monster that is growing out of control. It has been called the pinnacle of the game? But is it?
This year’s ANZAC Test match went to the wire with intense hits and sublime skills. In this writer’s opinion, that match was more intense than either Origin encounter this year.
Origin Two was intense, however had the ANZAC Test had a similar build up – and better team selections – there would have been no doubt as to which was the greater spectacle.
Sadly, it is no coincidence that the demise of international rugby league has come about since the rise of State Of Origin thirty years ago. This and the increasing dollars associated with State Of Origin have created eligibility issues with some players choosing not to play for their birth country in order to play Origin.
The international game is not new to this and all major nations have been at fault.
While Australia may be guilty of this quite regularly – see Akuila Uate and James Tamou – New Zealand has a history of plundering the island nations. The most recent example is Konrad Hurrell, who is a Tongan brought over three years ago on a rugby union scholarship to Auckland Grammar School, but has now signed a letter of intent to play for New Zealand.
Then there is Brent Webb and Nathan Fien, the latter who played Origin for Queensland before switching to the Kiwis.
England have also chosen Maurie Fa’asavalu (Samoa), Rangi Chase (NZ) and now Ian Henderson (Australian raised, although born in England) has recently been called up to the England squad.
Do we want to fix this? Or become a non-international sport like AFL? Or an all stars sport like in the US?
If the international game is to be persisted with, could it become bigger than Origin? If we do decide to persist with internationals and want to improve the stature of international rugby league what eligibility options are there?
There are really only three options: 1. Birth, which is not really fair considering movement between Australia and NZ; 2. Where a player first plays junior rugby league or sport. 3. The FIFA rules of five years residency plus gaining citizenship of the new country and a passport to become eligible.
I believe either two or three would work on the residency issue, as for parentage either retain the one grandparent rule or perhaps drop it back to a mother or father. Place of birth should remain the other option.
To not prejudice current players, the rules could be started as of now and introduced at Junior Kangaroos and Kiwis level.
However, the key to these new rules must be that once you play for one nation, you play for that nation for life.
In terms of the Pacific Islands, a new international team comprising Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and The Cook Islands could be formed. The respective nations would be treated like State Rep teams just like the West Indies in cricket.
Papua New Guinea could also be invited to join (although they have a much greater history, tradition and strength and may wish to continue alone). A Pacific Island side would give rugby league a potentially new large force, although this could have a short-term impact on New Zealand and Australia to a lesser degree.
If Papua New Guinea remained separate they would both either playoff for a Four Nations place (every two years) or play the Kiwis when Origin is on (if Kiwi Origin can’t be set up). This could be in conjunction with State Of Origin (which should stay on a Wednesday or go to a Monday). All this, along with the Pacific Cup (all NRL players included) and other potential representative games.
Growing these games would create the potential for between five and seven representative games in the southern hemisphere at the same time, allowing for standalone weekends at the time Origin is on.
By splitting the TV rights deal into portions and including NRL expansion, the potential is there for a $1- $1.4 billion TV rights deal which would set rugby league up for an enormous future. This can be achieved by selling rights to all interested parties.
So now it is up to the ARLC and the Rugby League International Federation to decide where they want the international game to go, stumbling along or taking off.