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Opinion

The best rugby league players don’t have to play State of Origin

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2nd September, 2020
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State of Origin was born in 1980, pitting New South Wales against Queensland, in a three-game series played under residential eligibility rules.

After two years, the rules were altered to represent where a player was raised and nurtured throughout their junior league days. This is more or less where current eligibility laws sit.

Built on legitimate rivalry, and serving as a selection trial for the Australian Kangaroos Test team, Origin has elevated itself to become arguably the biggest event in the Australian sporting calendar.

Since its inception over 40 years ago, the concept of Origin has evolved into a behemoth. This growth has masked a problem that administrators are still trying to solve – how to figure out a sensible eligibility criterion.

In December 2012, the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) attempted to do just that, with an updated set of eligibility rules.

These rules ultimately allowed appropriate players to be selected, while maintaining the bitter rivalry and still acting as a focal point for Kangaroos Test squad selection.

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This week, ARLC chairman Peter V’Landys announced that he and the board will look into tweaking eligibility laws.

This would allow Tier two nations like Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea to be available for State of Origin selection. V’Landy’s also stated that Kiwi players shouldn’t be prevented from participating either.

“We should have the best players in the State of Origin … it’s a pretty stupid rule where we force all those players to play for Australia”.

Firstly, English and Kiwi Test representatives are not eligible for State of Origin because it is essentially still a selection trial for the Kangaroos squad. Under current international eligibility rules, players can only align with one tier one nation in their career regardless of how many they are eligible for.

Historically, England and New Zealand have operated professionally and have earned their status as Tier one nations.

With Origin involving two heartland states of Australia, it makes no sense that a player born and raised in another country, where they’ve played all or a majority of their junior football, could call NSW or Queensland their state of origin.

Ask a Kiwi or Englishman what the pinnacle of the game is, and they will tell you it is playing for your country – as it should be.

However, there is some merit to the idea of involving Tier two nations in Origin. As it stands, players that qualify for both a Tier one and Tier two nation can choose to play for either, without being permanently tied to one.

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Examples of this are James Tedesco playing for Italy, and Josh Papalii playing for Samoa in the 2017 rugby league World Cup. Both players have since turned out for the Kangaroos.

James Tedesco

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

There’s one important thing to remember: Any player representing a Tier two nation who wishes to be selected for State of Origin, must have played the majority of their junior football in either state.

Secondly, they must align with the Kangaroos as their Tier one nation. As long as these qualifiers are satisfied, there is no reason to omit Tier two players from selection.

An example of it not working would be Jason Taumalolo, who currently plays for the Tier two nation of Tonga but is already aligned to tier one with New Zealand. Therefore, Taumalolo is no chance of turning out for Queensland.

Another point to make is that not every Australian player qualifies for Origin either. Take Curtis Rona for example. It wouldn’t matter if he was an absolute gun of a player, under the eligibility rules he would not qualify for either state. This is because the majority of his junior football was played in Western Australia, meaning he can only turn out for Australia or New Zealand.

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In May I wrote an article outlining a revised draw catering for both club and representative football.

The month of June was dedicated to State of Origin and various international Tests and tournaments, with the post-season being dedicated to the usual assortment of international matches.

Although there may be clashes for Tier two nations turning out for Origin in the mid-season, their post-season international involvement will not be hindered. Those lucky enough to be selected for Origin would undoubtedly take that experience back to their respective Tier two nations, making them stronger sides in the process.

Ultimately, State of Origin needs to revolve around players aligning with the Australian Kangaroos whether they represent a Tier two nation or not, while omitting the involvement of Kiwi and English-aligned players. The best players aren’t all from NSW and Queensland.

Opening the eligibility floodgates will tinker too much with the fabric of what makes Origin so special.

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So leave the best of the best for the international game.