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The Roar

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Is rugby league's window of opportunity in the Pacific beginning to close?

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Expert
26th November, 2018
50
1724 Reads

Some of the ideas posited in this column gestate for a while on social media. Your correspondent might Tweet something, gauge a reaction, and the idea that prompted the original post will evolve into something worth writing a column about.

Fiji beat France at rugby union for the first time the other day. I suggested, within the requisite character limit, that this was depressing because in our game we’ve had a Fiji team capable beating a French team for years.

Except that’s not really what I meant.

Because you can just argue that our French team has been poor and our Fiji team has been full of NRL players and that’s why things have been that way and … well, woop-de-do.

What I really meant is this: we have managed, though a Robin Hood-style selection procedure, to rob the rich (Australia, New Zealand) and give to the poor (Fiji, Tonga, Samoa).

This process has been amped up since the milestone World Cup of 1995 (which capitalised on the game changing World Sevens) to the point where last year some of the best players in the world chose Tonga over Australia and New Zealand.

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As in Origin, that’s what we do: by accident or design we have systems which counter economic migration. Your mum, dad, grandfather or grandmother move to a developed country to better themselves and give you a better life, and we let you go back to their country and complete the circle by representing it on the world stage.

It brings people together, it connects the diaspora with the homeland, professional athletes with amateurs.

It’s a beautiful thing.

By comparison, international rugby union seems a product of economic migration, not a counter to it. The Pacific countries get those the All Blacks don’t want. So, to my way of thinking, we had a lovely little advantage there, an attention grabber.

You know what other little attention grabber we had for 100 years? Professionalism. And what did we do with that? Stuff all. At the end of the hundred years we struggled to boast 15 countries while the version or rugby in which you weren’t allowed to be (openly) paid had close to 100.

How can you blow the competitive advantage of being able to pay people for a century while your major rival cannot? Oh, it speaks to so many things – colonialism, hierarchical societies, greed, a less globalised world, lack of vision … we could go on forever.

But that’s what makes this, another blown opportunity – not for world domination, just some advancement – so annoying.

We didn’t put these teams on the field enough. They almost never played at home. Fiji made the World Cup semis three tournaments in a row. But because there was such a gap between third and fourth in our system, the achievement never seemed properly recognised.

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And now, the window of opportunity is closing. The age of giant-killing in international rugby union seems to be upon us. The sun shone and we didn’t make enough hay.

That’s what I meant.