Why do people like international football?
At its very core, the most basic level, why do we like watching test matches between international teams?
I like to this it comes down to seeing how one group of people from one part of the world plays compared to another group of people from another part of the world.
What happens when you get a bunch of Tongan players from Tonga and they play against a bunch of Irish players from Ireland? How do their strengths and weaknesses match up?
It isn’t just about their on field performance either, it is about different cultures meeting up on a common field, playing a common game, but knowing that they had very different upbringings. That their preparation and though processes towards the contest are different.
The special part is, these different cultures are brought together by Rugby League, a funny little sport that brought together two different nations, two different cultures, both looking to win, but both loving the sport they play.
That is the essence of what should make international Rugby League special.
The problem is, international Rugby League is nothing like that.
The self interests of players, coaches and administrators see’s a mad scramble for who ever they can find to play for their team. It doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t even matter what culture you grew up in. Tick the right boxes in the plethora of eligibility options, know the right people and make the right offer, and you’ll get a run.
International teams are treated like franchises. Coaches, the most self absorbed people within our game, don’t care about anything other then keeping their jobs and looking good in the process.
Players, they are either looking for representative payments or just to get a run in an international game. Who ever makes the best offer will get their services.
Administrators are just looking to make money. The better the team they’ve got, the better the results, the better the sponsorship deals, the money money from corporate boxes sold.
None of these three groups gives a damn about what is right. What is best for the game. What is the best thing for international Rugby League to prosper and grow. As long as their own little patch seems to be going alright, the rest of the sport can go to hell.
The Rugby League International Federation keeps being blamed for this. The funny thing is….they don’t actually exist.
Try sending a letter to the RLIF…..they don’t have an address. The reason is because the RLIF is basically the ARLC, RFL and NZRL, with every other nation having to fall into line because they have no financial muscle power.
So you have three nations that set the rules and run everything, and they all have their own agendas.
For the RFL, they are administering over a dying sport in Great Britain and Ireland. They have not had any success in over 30 years. They have a World Cup to try and sell, and they know the last time they did that they almost went bust. So why would the RFL care about integrity over pound signs when it comes to trying to build an international lineup?
In Australia, the ARLC are set in terms of money, but there is always more to be made. State Of Origin makes so much money and they like to try and look after that, so they recruit who ever they can. One again, stuff integrity.
They also are happy to use money to lure players to play for Australian clubs, and rep sides, and they do it without any shame at all. After all, who is going to say no to them? They generate all the money!
Then you have the NZRL, who basically need to try and compete with Australia to generate money. If they can’t compete with Australia on a regular basis, they can’t generate money. So if that means signing up some Australia’s and using the Pacific Islands as a feeder system, why not?
All three organisations set the rules. Looking at where their interests lie, its pretty easy to see why they have no interest in changing the current system.
It is clear we need change though and the other organisation that can make any different is the ARLC. They are the financial power house of the sport, they deal with more eligibility issues than any other organisation in the game, and at the end of the day they drive the sport forward and have done for decades now.
This week, I have not heard a single fan say that the current system is good for the game. Fans are the customer, and they are turning away from test football because of this farce.
I grew up watching real test football. Over the years, I watched it being eroded on the back of self interest and a set of eligibility rules that even back then were so out of date it was not funny.
I think we need a set up eligibility rules that reflect modern day society. One that takes into account mass immigration, a multicultural player base, cheaper travel and a media market that has dissolves previous barriers that used to stop certain teams getting exposed in mass markets.
Australia and New Zealand, without question, have professional player bases of their own of players born and raised in both countries that they could select teams with no “imports” and not miss a beat. There is no doubt about that.
The Pacific Islands nations like Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, the Cook Islands and the like, they face different challenges.
These nations basically have amateur players bases when it comes to players born and raised in these countries. They do have some players who leave and become professional players though.
They can put together pretty good teams of players born and raised in their own countries, but the biggest problem they have is that they can not come close to matching the financial incentives other countries offer to play in a test match. If they could, we would be seeing a completely different international Rugby League set up.
So how do we fill in that financial gap that holds Pacific Islands nations back?
New Zealand is looking for an alternative to the State Of Origin series. They basically need to play more games during a year, give test players more chances to earn match payments while wearing the Kiwi jersey, but at the same time have a home grown series they can sell to sponsors and broadcasters as a rallying point for the game in New Zealand.
They also need this to counter the financial lure that State Of Origin has become to New Zealand born players.
New Zealand is a country of many different cultures, much like Australia. New Zealand gets a lot of immigration from other Pacific Islands nations and I really do believe this is something the NZRL could tap into.
They don’t need to set up some artificial boundary as they are proposing with an Auckland vs Rest Of New Zealand series. They already have all they need to be successful.
New Zealand vs The Pacific Islands. A three match series run mid season alongside State Of Origin. A series that would have a natural competitive element between New Zealanders and a Pacific Islanders, both of which have large professional players bases to build upon.
Now I have said before, Pacific Islanders don’t want to play in a combined side exclusively. They want to play for their home nations. They want to represent Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, PNG and the Cook Islands individually.
My Pacific Islands side would not replace those teams. It would compliment them. It would generate the money and interest that would allow Pacific Islands players to be able to earn money while still staying committed to their Island nations rather than having to commit to Australia or New Zealand.
So anyone that played for the Pacific Islands would get the same financial incentives as a State Of Origin player. They would be playing in a high profile mid season series and making good money from it. Pool the money played from this series with the State Of Origin series. Treat it as one big block and used the funds from both series to fund player payments.
It might mean State Of Origin players don’t get bigger match payments than they already get, and the New Zealand vs Pacific Islands series piggybacks on the financial success of State Of Origin to a certain extent, but that is in the best interests of the game overall.
At the end of the year they then go and play for their individual nations, knowing they haven’t missed out in terms of exposure or finances at all.
See people are focusing on the eligibility rules themselves, which they need to to a certain extent. What they are not looking at are the circumstances that make those rules an issue.
If a Samoan player knows that he can play representative football in a high profile, three match Origin style series, earning an extra $30,000 in the process as a State Of Origin player would, and still be able to play for his home nation…..he isn’t going to feel any need to commit to New Zealand or Australia. He has everything he already needs!
We need to cut back eligibility rules. There is no doubt about that. The Grandparent rules is just ridiculous. The residency rule isn’t much better. If you are a second generation immigrant who’s parents come from a different country, a different culture, I can understand that a young man would identify with his parents country just as much as his country of birth.
So if we just scaled back eligibility rules and give players from the Pacific Islands and even New Zealand a chance to represent and earn money in the process, we have fixed 80% of the issues in international Rugby League right there!
Once we have international Rugby League in the southern hemisphere sorted out, it won’t take much to fix the issues we are seeing in Europe. They will fall into line simply because they will see the money being generated from improved representative football in the southern hemisphere.