(Australia will go in favourites to next week’s mid year test and the Four Nations at the end of the year. Photo courtesy of http://www.foxsports.com.au)
International Rugby League is in complete and utter disarray after the Semi Radradra defection from his native Fiji to Australia has once again brought the eligibility farce into the spotlight. After the recent success and momentum of expanding the tri-nations to Four Nations and the 2008 and 2013 World Cup’s attainment, the international game was starting to make some serious headway and inroads of no longer being a mediocre, laughing stock compared to its counterparts on the world stage; namely in Football and Rugby Union.
Whilst Australia, New Zealand and England have always been the dominant nations that have prevailed over 100 years international rugby league has been played, the emergence of minnow nations, namely in the pacific in recent times has actually seen that a little bit of fostering and development is starting to pay off, making countries outside of the big 3, somewhat competitive. In 2013, Fiji fell one game short of making the Rugby League World Cup Final. In 2014, Samoa had won the Pacific Cup to be the fourth nation to compete in the Four Nations. In 2016, it will be Scotland after winning the European Cup last year.
A lot of the success has been put down to the fact that players in the NRL and English Super League with heritage or bloodlines to a certain country has seen players turnout and represent these minnow nations. The likes of Cowboys Fullback Lachlan Coote, Panthers halfback Peter Wallace and former Wests Tigers prop, now Leeds enforcer Keith Galloway will represent Scotland in the upcoming Four Nations tournament later this year. This is turn not only strengthens Scotland and making them more competitive, it raises the profile of the sport, of the game in Scotland as a whole. That can only be good for International Rugby League.
Yet there is cause for concern, which has the potential to halt progress and prosperity of the international game. That being international rugby league eligibility. As it stands, the eligibility to represent ones country or country they wish to represent is down to a specified criteria. That being, born in the country you wish to represent or living in the country for a minimum of 3 years and becoming a citizen of the land. The latter is what Semi Radradra has done and as such applied to change his eligibility from his native country of Fiji to Australia, which has opened up a Pandora’s box.
(Fijian Semi Radradra a happy man representing his country back in the
2013 Rugby League World Cup. Photo courtesy on http://www.radionz.co.nz)
Many fans have been left scratching their head as to why Radradra would turn his back on Fiji in order to pull on the Green and Gold of the Kangaroos. From a personal view point, Radradra wants to challenge himself and secondly, the remuneration is too good to refuse. At present, Australia, New Zealand and England are the only countries in International Rugby League that handsomely reward their players for playing test football. Australian players are paid $20,000 for pulling on the jersey. There lies the motivation for players like Radradra to switch allegiances. And good luck to him. I don’t think anyone begrudges a player being able to earn what they can if the rules and regulations allow it.
Whilst the eligibility remains as it is, you will start to see more scenarios and cases similar to that of Radradra’s, which is a red flag for the continued development of fledging minnow nations who’s goal is to become more competitive and stronger on the international stage. This will certainty not be the case if players like Radradra are turning their back to chase the coin that is on offer, as opposed to the pittance that minnow nations provide to their international test representatives. It is one thing to say that earning a national test jersey, to play for ones country should be an honour, a privilege and something that is earned. Having remuneration benefits has perhaps in some small way cheapened the jersey, the accolade of playing for your country. Whilst its still a highlight to the players, there is a different motivation to play representative football, to when there was 10 to 20 years ago. We can thank the globalization of the commercial dollar penetrating sport for that.
The governing body and its affiliates has the power and capacity to change eligibility if they so wish too. However, the silence has been deafening from the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) and the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC). Nothing has been said, not a peep. What isn’t helping International Rugby League’s ability to grow is the ridiculous ‘veto’ that exists when a player elects to change their eligibility from one country to another. For example, Semi Radradra ‘if’ overlooked by Australia for the four nations or world cup in 2017, even though he has made himself available, he is unable to go back and play for Fiji for 2 years. This applies to all players, from all nations. How does this help strengthen emerging nations?
(New Kangaroos Coach, Mal Meninga, wants to restore representing your country as the pinnacle for any rugby league player. Photo courtesy of http://www.nrl.com)
New Australian Kangaroos Coach Mal Meninga who recently announced his first Australian test team is on record saying he is “passionate about the game of rugby league” and wants to see the international game “become a force”. Yet Meninga, instead of having the kahunas to overlook Radradra or come out and display some much needed leadership pleading with the RLIF to change its eligibility laws, did neither. How does making Australia, ranked No.2 nation in the World, stronger buy selecting other nations best, help make the international game a force? It does completely the opposite.
Meninga has a job to do. That is, to restore pride in the Australian Jersey, to make playing for your country the pinnacle of a players career, rather than representing your state which is the current viewpoint among many and ensuring the No.1 test ranking once again is Australia’s. But isn’t there a great responsibility as one of, if not, the leading Rugby League nation on the planet, to help foster the international game? Helping our pacific neighbours be competitive strong holds rather than the whipping boys in the international arena?
Wayne Bennett has recently come out and blocked his Samoan test international 5/8th Anthony Milford from being able to play for Samoa in the upcoming Pacific Test match. As to why he has prohibited his young Broncos playmaker from representing his country of heritage, he simply stated because he can and doesn’t care. This coming from a supposed advocate and supporter of International Rugby League. A man who helped coach the victorious NZ Kiwi’s to their 2008 World Cup triumph and who has recently been appointed as the coach of England. With this sort of attitude coming from within the game, is it any real surprise to see why eligibility is in the mess it finds itself in? Self-interest from coaches, nations and players is why Rugby League will never reach the heights and lofty ambitions of being able to be a competitive, well-supported global player.
(Samoan sensation, Anthony Milford has been banned from representing his country of heritage by Broncos coach Wayne Bennett. Photo courtesy of http://www.couriermail.com.au)
What is to gain from having three nations dominate for the next 100 years? How does that help boost International Rugby League? Logic tells me, the stronger and more competitive international rugby league becomes, the greater the interest and support will be generated, the greater the broadcast deals, the greater the sponsorship which in turn leads to greater revenue opportunities that pours in for the RLIF to disperse amongst its affiliate and non-affiliate nations to bring development and competition up to where it needs to be, to be taken serious. Logic. Something that is obviously lacking by the RLIF and the ARLC.
Even though I am a proud Australian, I am also an advocate for Rugby League to think outside its domestic square and confines. Does the tag of being No.1 in the world or world champions carry much weight when you fended off another two countries for the bestowed honour? Reminds me of American Baseball. No other country plays it in the world on a competitive level that they do domestically, but the winner of each year claims to be World Series Champions. Please. I do not want to see continued and sustained success of the Kangaroos be to the detriment of the growth and prosperity of the international product. I long to see the likes of Samoa, Tonga, Lebanon, Scotland, Ireland, the Cook Islands, PNG et al. be competitive in their own right and one day challenge the likes of Australia, England and New Zealand for a World Cup. I remain hopeful I will see a change in mentality and tact by the RLIF in my lifetime, but I will not hold my breath.
If the powerbrokers and respective governing bodies won’t stand up and show leadership about changing International Rugby League for the better, then it is up to the players, as custodians of the sport to stand up and help. The likes of BJ Leilua from the Canberra Raiders and Sydney Roosters prop Kane Evans are already doing their bit by choosing country over City-Country and inevitably Origin and Australian representative honours to help strengthen Samoa and Fiji respectively. It is refreshing to see that the lure of financial reward is not a forgone conclusion to all players who like avid Rugby League fans, can see the bigger picture of making ‘The Greatest Game of All’ truly that, on the world stage, not just domestically.
(2008 World Cup Champions, NZ Kiwis. Photo courtesy of http://www.teara.govt.nz)