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The lie of international rugby league

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Roar Rookie
4th September, 2020
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Representatives from the ARLC and International Rugby League (IRL) are currently reviewing the sport’s representative eligibility rules, with estimates a player could potentially qualify for up to nine nations if proposed rules pass.

These new bylaws could potentially see players such as Josh Papalii and Daniel Saifiti turn out for Queensland and New South Wales respectively in the State of Origin series and Samoa and Fiji internationally.

Most would accept the stated goal of the reform, which is to strengthen the international game, especially with a World Cup coming up next year.

On the contrary, the only goal achieved by jury-rigging a suite of plasticised international teams via league’s own style of gerrymandering is the true goal of the IRL: to make money.

What fans will typically hear from international rugby league power brokers such as the ARLC and IRL is that it is in the sport’s interest to support a region, which supposedly offers so much in the way of playing talent to league and the NRL.

This will be packaged and sold to rugby league fans as what they have always dreamed of: genuine international competition between a multitude of countries, ultimately paving a pathway for a truly great World Cup to even rival that held by rugby union.


All this is an illusion, with teams of Australians badged as Tongans, Scots and Italians, and each World Cup cycle that passes leaving no actual impact on rugby league in those nations, but plenty of sentiment for Aussies, New Zealanders and Englishmen with cultural links to said countries.

Some may even call what is going on selfish. After all, what right does Jason Taumalolo have, not born or raised in Tonga, to arrogantly step into the Tongan 13 jersey and take it away from a player who was born and raised in that country?

Jason Tauamlolo running with Tonga.

(Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Of course, international rugby league bodies are not only happy for this to happen, they encourage it. Players of this talent level defecting to nations of their cultural heritage is new and exciting, and what’s new and exciting prints money.

These organisations will chum the footy waters with buzzwords such as “development, “growth” and “passion”, but the trickle-down economics suggested by the sport’s governing bodies don’t really add up.

The AUD and European paychecks that would likely be life-changing money for Pacific nationals stay in the hands of athletes representing these countries, but living in Australia, and spending their money in Australia.

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Even the big dollars to be had through marketing these wildly popular World Cups and Pacific Tests? They stay in the hands of the IRL, and I wonder just how much of it would make it back to the minnow nations.

There is not a buck to be had by these developing nations, and what went on was what was always going on in the first place: wealthy organisations in highly developed countries lining their own pockets, using the emotional lure brought on by a player connecting with their heritage through rugby league.

There is no developed international sport as the prize. The IRL is richer, the television networks are much richer, and rugby league fans have parted with their money and their emotions for the mirage of a Test between Samoa and Tonga played by Australians and New Zealanders.