Pacific nations demand their own State of Origin

ScottWoodward.me Roar Guru

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    Rugby league administrators should be rushing to combine the four Pacific island nations – New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa and Fiji – into their own State of Origin series.

    If we have learnt anything from the current Rugby League World Cup, it is that the Kiwis are no longer the ‘big brothers’ in a class of their own from their three neighbouring ‘minnows’.

    Scheduling will be the key, but imagine a two to three-week break from the NRL and a weekend that could start with Samoa vesus Fiji on Friday night, Tonga versus New Zealand on Saturday night and the Blues versus the Maroons on Sunday.

    What an extravaganza! But wait, there’s more.

    The Pacific nations would play again the following weekend to decide the top two teams followed by Game 2 between the Blues and the Maroons. Later in the season, perhaps midweek, the two big finals could be played, with the Pacific island match played in Auckland. All matches would be a rating bonanza but, importantly, would be amazing for the growth of the game.

    (AAP Image/David Rowland)

    Laurie Daley described the recent Samoa versus Tonga match as the greatest opening he had ever seen for any match. The changing of the guard, with many players choosing their native country over playing for the powerful Kiwis, has balanced the Pacific nations scales, and all four teams are competitive relative to each other, although Samoa is still a work in progress after a 14-all draw with the battling Bravehearts. An interesting side note is that $80,000 was traded on Samoa at 1.01 against Scotland.

    The newfound competitiveness from the Pacific islanders has been a shot in the arm for rugby league, and if it is managed correctly by the administrators, the end result will be a new revenue stream from a fat TV contract that will complement the goldmine that is State of Origin.

    Channel Seven have covered the RLWC and Network Ten, with new owners, would also be obvious contenders for the rights to cover an Origin-style contest between the Pacific island nations.

    We have all seen the potential, but it all falls short if the big guns of Australia and New Zealand hand-pick the best from the top and offer huge sums of money in player grabs that will weaken Tonga, Samoa and Fiji.

    It was the players who initiated this move, but it should be the game’s leaders who should change the rules to ensure that it is equally financially attractive for Jarryd Hayne to play for Fiji and Jason Taumalolo to play for Tonga.

    (Image: NRL)

    As I sat in the stand at Allianz and watched the amazing Lebanon crowd cheer their heroes, somehow it just did not sit well as Josh Mansour, a son of a Beirut-born father, ran out for the Kangaroos after playing three matches for the Cedars.

    The strong will always be strong, but the exciting 28-22 Tongan win over the Kiwis signalled the birth of a new revenue stream for our game. The Tongans were fabulous, but this was the weakest Kiwi team I have ever rated, which was exacerbated by poor selections. Many considered Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor were harshly treated when they were dropped from the Kiwi team, and this led to other defections.

    Also young Storm hooker Brandon Smith was overlooked after playing a starring 80-minute role in the Queensland Cup final. He is a star and has been chosen as the man to succeed living legend Cam Smith, but somehow the Kiwi selectors preferred the pedestrian Thomas Leulual. Playing Kodi Nikorima on the left side in place of Te Marie Martin also raised many eyebrows, and Tonga enjoyed great success down that side.

    The Kiwis can and will get much stronger, but let’s hope that it is not at the expense of another neighbouring country.