Parramatta gave it everything they had but it just wasn’t enough, the Eels going down to the Penrith Panthers 8-6 in a heart-stopper in Mackay.
With Australia and New Zealand withdrawing from the Rugby League World Cup, due to rising Covid cases in the UK, suggestions and support has been made to send the Indigenous and Maori Allstar teams to represent both nations.
Support of the All Star teams joining the World Cup has been growing with players such as Blake Ferguson, Brad Takarangi and Latrell Mitchell backing the idea publicly. Though it may seem unlikely to happen, with even the World Cup event itself coming into question, a strong desire to play and represent their proud teams remains.
Both teams have proven, especially in the last two All Star games, that they’re not just there for exhibition. A tough competitive entertaining game this year, resulting in a 10 all draw, showed how serious the teams and the jersey means to the players.
Over 45 percent of the NRL is made up of players with Pacific Island heritage with 12 percent of the comp being Indigenous Australian. Teams that have usually played in the annual Pac test are Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, but have also included Cook Islands and Lebanon.
The Pacific Test this year was put on hold due to covid, which would’ve taken place mid year before origin. There is a strong possibility of the World Cup also being cancelled, and if so could the Pacific Test be played later on this year.
The PAC test has not only been used as an opportunity to showcase skill and talent but also the opportunity for national teams to test and trial players in preparations for building squads for bigger events like the World Cup.
In the past there has been other big events for Pacific nations rugby league, with the Pacific Cup, Pacific challenge and the Super League oceanic challenge. There has also been calls and plans to bring back an end of the year Oceanic challenge in recent years, which would include Australia and New Zealand.
As part of the Oceania region, it would make sense to include the Australia Indigenous and New Zealand Maori teams to the annual Test series. This gives the Indigenous and Maori sides a chance to play more games. The more games against different opponents would also strengthen these teams and squads allowing the possible inclusion in bigger events like an Oceanic challenge or comp in the future, if a comp were to eventually happen.
The regular Allstars game start of year would remain as usual, allowing State of Origin star players to represent their heritage teams. Then during the Pac test being played mid-season before origin, it would allow opportunities for other players to fill spaces, gaining more experience and adding depth.
A growing number of players opting to represent and strengthen their heritage nations first is on the rise, a good example being Tonga who found success with an upset win against a star studded Australia Kangaroos team. More NRL test matches and international competitions are needed through out the year, to strengthen all teams and ultimately strengthen and promote the game.
With Covid and border restrictions, keeping the Pac test going and having an annual Oceanic competition within Australia would work.
There are enough numbers in the NRL for each team, including feeder club/reserve grade players, with Papua New Guinea Hunters and Fijis Kaiviti silktails also being based in Australia for the season. Having the Indigenous team represent the host nation with their trans Tasman counterparts Maori team would make a huge cultural spectacle.