The discussion around the eligibility criteria for State of Origin emerges every year. There is always a debate over who should be able to play for which state – or even any state.
‘He was born in NSW! He should be with us!’ I’m looking at you Greg Inglis.
‘He was born in Queensland! Why didn’t he play for the Maroons?!’ That’s you Peter Sterling.
‘He was born in New Zealand! How did he even play?!’ You heard me, James Tamou.
Over the years, there have been so many arguments over who should be eligible.
This flow chart shows the current eligibility criteria. They left out ‘can you pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time?’
Commentators and fans alike have been calling for changes to the eligibility rules for a while now, wanting to keep Origin the spectacle that it is, but having the best possible players take the field.
Brad Fittler said on NRL360 on Monday night that he went to the commission last year and asked them to review the eligibility for Origin.
“Prior to coaching the NSW team, I coached the 16s and the 18s,” Fittler said.
“I realised the pressures on young kids coming through who were either born in NSW or Queensland, or came over at different ages… I suggested we review these things… and a lot of the reactions were that we shouldn’t do anything.”
And then when everything came out about Ronaldo Mulitalo, Fittler thought it was “ridiculous”.
“I feel for Ronaldo and I hope they do review the eligibility because he is a perfect example of someone we should look at… there’s no reason why he shouldn’t play for Queensland,” Fittler said.
Mulitalo has previously – albeit incorrectly – played for the Maroons in the under-16s, under-18s and under-20s.
Less than 24 hours from fulfilling his dream of representing his beloved Queensland at the top level, the state he moved to just before his 14th birthday, the rug was pulled out from underneath him because he didn’t live in Australia before he turned 13.
Fittler believes that the tiering system should go, the ageing system should be reviewed, and that it shouldn’t take away from the authenticity of Origin as State of Origin is about NSW and Queensland not national heritage.
I don’t say this often, but I totally agree with Freddy.
We are obviously – and wonderfully so – living in a time when our rugby league community has outgrown the criteria.
While everyone plays the blame game for what happened to Mulitalo, I say we learn from it and finally make some necessary changes.
There are so many talented players from all different backgrounds who would give anything to play Origin. And – this is just as important – play for the team that they feel they most belong too. Where their loyalties lie.
Players like Jason Taumalolo, Addin Fonua-Blake and Viliame Kikau have all shared their dreams to play Origin.
And who can blame them? Origin is the pinnacle of the rugby league calendar. Many have said that playing for your country is an honour, but everyone is desperate to play Origin.
Queensland were missing the likes of Kalyn Ponga and Harry Grant last night. I wonder how they would have gone if their selection pool was bigger?
‘Daly Cherry-Evans plays the ball to Brandon Smith, who passes it onto a charging Jason Taumalolo, who offloads to a flying Ronaldo Mulitalo, who runs through and scores!’
But unfortunately, some very outdated rules stand in the way.
Picture being a young kid now with dreams of playing in the NRL, and of course being picked for Origin, but feeling like they will never get to wear the Blue or Maroon jersey because of some very old-fashioned guidelines.
We have introduced and changed so many rules of late. Let’s scrap the Origin selection criteria and start from scratch.
This is my suggestion. I would have two criteria and then one determining question. And remember, my criteria have nothing to do with playing for Australia. This is purely about Origin. How it should be. International representation is completely separate.
1. You are either born in Australia, or…
2. If not born in Australia, you must have played junior footy between under-6s and under-17s here. Doesn’t matter which state, as long as it was in Australia.
I feel the two criteria are important to show rugby league in Australia has been a part of your life from a young age. It would have made players like Sam Burgess or Roger Tuivasa-Sheck ineligible. If you came to play in Australia from 18 onwards, you can’t be selected.
So, the determining question?
Where do your loyalties lie?
Now before you rip me to shreds in the comments section, just hear me out.
Look at these scenarios.
Were you born in NSW, but have spent most of your life growing up and playing in Queensland?
Were you born in Queensland and played some footy in Queensland, moved to NSW where you played some more footy?
Where do your loyalties lie?
Luke Keary was born in Queensland. He and his family moved to NSW when he was ten. He wanted to play for Queensland, like his idol Allan Langer. He even wrote to the NRL to pledge his allegiance to the Maroons, but he was denied, and told if ever selected for Origin he would play for New South Wales.
That doesn’t sit right with me.
This might sound fluffy and from a world full of rainbows and unicorns. It could work. It would take Origin to a whole new level.
Disagree? Then give me an alternative.
And don’t say ‘you can’t just pick who you want to play for! It’s called State of Origin because that is where you were originally born or come from!’
We know that is not the case for everyone that has played Origin. Or tried to. Hey, Ronaldo?
It’s called the National Rugby League and we have a team from New Zealand so things change.
The rules may be clear – but they are archaic.
If Origin is all about passion, emotion, loyalties and pride – my idea will showcase it in all its glory.
Making more players eligible will only bring positives to Origin and showcase exactly the level of talent we have in this country.
When you sign a contract in the NRL, you are asked to select who you would represent at state level. If you meet the criteria, I say pick who you want.
The game would still be state against state, mate against mate.
Whether you agree with me or not, I’m sure you can get on board that the criteria need to align with the times.
At the end of the day, we all just want State of Origin to be – oh, what did Tina Turner use to sing about? That’s right, simply the best.