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Opinion

Reform Origin to strengthen the international game, but don't kill the rivalry

Daniel Turner new author
Roar Rookie
14th April, 2020
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Daniel Turner new author
Roar Rookie
14th April, 2020
6
1234 Reads

Eligibility for State of Origin selection has long been a huge issues, with a number of that eight-year-long Queensland dynasty being born in New South Wales.

Players like Greg Inglis, Sam Thaiday, Matt Gillett and even Queensland legend Billy Moore were born in NSW.

I am not ignorant to the fact that NSW isn’t immune from manipulating the eligibility rules either – Blues legend Peter Sterling was born in Toowoomba.

While the eligibility chat has laid dormant for a few years, to use Peter V’landys’ language regarding the current shutdown, “everything is on the table” concerning what the league will look like following the crisis.

This means the topic has risen again.

Brad Fittler has advocated relaxing the eligibility rules, while former Queensland mentor Graham Lowe wants the series to include New Zealand and a combined Pacific Islands team.

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I reject Lowe’s proposal completely as what makes Origin great is the passion. It is an interstate rivalry and adopting his plan would turn it into a hybrid series of both state and international rugby league. Lowe’s proposal would weaken the greatest rugby league spectacle in Australia and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

With that said, there is a chat to be had around players who are eligible for multiple nations choosing to represent Australia solely to play Origin. Andrew Fifita became the exception to this rule in recent years, turning his back on NSW to play for Tonga, and this has led to the small nation becoming stronger on the international stage.

Andrew Fifita

Andrew Fifita (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

This is to be encouraged, but how do we encourage players to ignore Australia and play for emerging nations, thereby growing the international game, when Origin remains the pinnacle of rugby league?

The way is to reform the eligibility criteria on four simple grounds.

1. If you were born in NSW or Queensland, the state you were born in is the state that you play for, regardless of your international allegiance.

2. If you were born in one of the other states, the state where you played your first game within the NRL system – whether junior or senior, SG Ball for the Knights for example – is your state. Again, this would be regardless of your international allegiance (for example, Kalyn Ponga was born in Western Australia but is eligible for New Zealand through his father’s heritage).

3. If you were born internationally, you play for the state of the club you signed your first NRL contract with. Melbourne can be assigned to the Maroons, as their feeder team is in the Queensland Cup, while the Warriors can be assigned to NSW as their feeder team is in the NSW Cup.

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4. If you were born in Australia but converted from another sport, apply Number 1 or 2, before using 3 if required.

These four points would simplify the selection criteria, end the ridiculous scenario where a person born in NSW plays for Queensland and vice versa, and grow the international game.

These changes also need to apply retrospectively and equally to all players, or it will take at least a decade to be fully implemented.

We need to grow the international game and the selection criteria for Origin is inhibiting that, but we can’t grow the former game at the expense of the latter, which is Australian rugby league’s greatest product.

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We also need to ensure the best players feature in the biggest games and excluding the likes of former Dally M Player of the Year Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Andrew Fifita from Origin because they play for international sides means the best miss three of the four biggest games of the year.

So while I reject the detail of Graham Lowe’s proposal, there does need to be reform to strengthen the international game.