Freeman floats Junior Kiwi expats concept
Kiwi rugby league great Gary Freeman says the introduction of a “Junior Expats” match could help New Zealand win their eligibility fight against NSW and Queensland.
The international game is currently at a crossroads, with New Zealand-born James Tamou turning his back on the black jersey to play for NSW, and another Kiwi Sam Kasiano contemplating whether to commit to Queensland.
Freeman, who played 45 Tests for New Zealand, has joined the widespread call for the ARL Commission to tighten up eligibility rules, warning both New Zealand and Australia will be damaged in the long run if nothing is done.
The former Balmain star says the battle must begin at the junior level, especially with Polynesian player numbers growing every year in Australia.
Freeman says he supports the idea of building a strong New Zealand culture for kids living away from home at a young age, by picking a representative team of under-16 Kiwi expats in Australia.
It’s similar to the Exiles concept in the UK, where a representative team made up of foreign stars playing in the English Super League combine to take on the English national team.
“The way we could change it and it could be so much more beneficial for New Zealand kids that have parents come over (to Australia) or kids who have an opportunity to play for New Zealand or Australia … is we have a development pathway for these kids to make an early call,” Freeman told AAP.
“Rather than being selected for an Australian Schoolboys team as a number of these boys have been before, you could have an under-16s Expats team.
“They go back to New Zealand and play the Junior Kiwis and they could also play against the Junior Australian team.
“You start from 16s and make a 20s team … that would be a big lure for kids to make their decision a lot earlier than leaving it this late.
“Sam Kasiano to me, as I understand it – he was born in New Zealand, his parents are Kiwis, he came over here at 16 and to me, if that’s not a Kiwi then I don’t know what is.”
Freeman accused administrators of not making the hard calls on eligibility as the drama inevitably subsides once a player like Tamou switches allegiance.
The proud Kiwi said the international game was in danger – and not just New Zealand, but Australia will be affected.
“What happens is some of the other props that are running around in the game are probably looking at (the Kasiano and Tamou cases) going, ‘geez, what have I got to do to make it into the Blues and what have I got to do to make it into the Australian side?,” he said.
“Both sides are going to feel the impact.
“The administrators need to stand up and make the rules tighter.”
Freeman said he also supported a New Zealand Origin concept to satisfy the big-match wishes of Kiwi players, but said the NRL schedule would have to be revamped to accommodate it.
Meanwhile, in State of Origin news, NSW captain Paul Gallen says the Blues should pick second-rower Glenn Stewart for the series decider against Queensland even if he hasn’t fully recovered from a knee injury.© AAP 2013