State of Origin: Is dual eligibility the answer?
State of Origin is the most anticipated event in the rugby league calendar. The standard of the contest is undisputedly high and the series always provides some of the most enthralling matches of the year.
Yes, State of Origin is considered to be one of rugby league’s greatest assets, but could it also be hindering the sport’s development?
Now, before all you cockroaches and cane toads start furiously commenting in defence of Origin, I am not questioning its success as a rugby league event.
However, when rugby league’s major competitors, such as AFL and rugby union are focused on increasing their foothold across the country and internationally, a contest that essentially only represents two states could be holding back the code.
The disproportionate importance placed on State of Origin is shown by the fact that foreign-born players are willing to sign away a chance to represent their country to play Origin.
Rugby league is not only played in Queensland and NSW, though, and not all players start their careers there.
Yes, the vast majority of NRL players are from these two states but if State of Origin is consistently held up as the epitome of the code, then it is going to become increasingly irrelevant to the rest of the country once the NRL expands.
The problems that came with the staging of Origin I in Melbourne this year are a prime example of this.
A lot of the crowd came from the NRL stronghold states. I would say that those who were from Melbourne were objective third party observers.
Even as a third party observer you can appreciate the quality of Origin clashes, but it’s not like being intimately involved in the outcome.
It’s the same with any sport.
At the time, journalists from the Origin states blamed the all-consuming nature of the AFL in Melbourne for the lack of coverage of the opening match, but when Victoria is not a major player in the event, why would Victorians be interested?
When a contest between two states trumps any other contest, both in the minds of players and those of the greater community, the game’s ability to entrench itself in areas outside of those two states is always going to be undermined.
Obviously when it provides such a commercial advantage for the code, no one is going to change the product that is State of Origin.
Rather than diminishing the significance of Origin, which is probably near impossible, the NRL needs to focus on providing incentives for players to choose national representation.
While tackling the AFL states is a fair way off, there is a way that rugby league can stop itself from becoming irrelevant outside of Queensland and NSW.
A great way to do this, at least at the international level, to allow players to have dual eligibility, rather than making state eligibility and international representation mutually exclusive.
So, New Zealand-born players, such as the Bulldogs’ Sam Kasiano or North Queensland’s James Tamou, who played junior footy in Australia, should be eligible for Origin and for New Zealand duties.
This would mean Origin could still maintain its place as a significant rugby league occasion without diluting the talent pool for international representation.
Furthermore, this could make for better Tests, which could attract a national audience for rugby league, transcending state borders at least a few times a year.
State of Origin was originally established to avoid NSW raiding Queensland talent and yet this is exactly what the two rugby league states are doing to many of Australia’s international neighbours.
Yes, State of Origin is the highlight of the NRL season.
Yes, State Of Origin swells the code’s pockets.
Yes, more than three million people will tune in next Wednesday to watch what is certain to be a thrilling decider in the 2012 series.
But the nature of the beast is that it will always be about NSW and Queensland. This is a problem for rugby league as it attempts to show its relevance to the rest of Australia and across the Tasman.