Imagine the headlines… New South Wales selects Sonny Bill Williams in game one of the 2014 State Of Origin series. I think the entire country would go into a meltdown.
International eligibility rules state that after a World Cup, the most important international tournament we have, every single player is allowed to switch nations. I know that sounds completely ridiculous. It makes no sense that you would spend so much time and effort in developing the international game through a World Cup only to trash it all as soon as the final is over, but those are the rules Rugby League has chosen to adopt.
That means a player like Sonny Bill Williams could play for New Zealand in the 2013 World Cup and then chose to switch his international allegiance to Australia in 2014.
As we have found out recently with Luke Keary the rules that govern State Of Origin eligibility do not take into account where you were born.
Basically, when a player signs an NRL contract they have to fill out a form which determines their eligibility. This form is normally only used when it comes to State Of Origin eligibility.
Keep in mind that Sonny Bill Williams didn’t officially sign a contract to return to the NRL until early 2013. It was a one year deal. He had to sign another deal to remain in the NRL.
You might not like the way Sonny Bill Williams is managed, but you have to admit that his management gets the most out of his career without giving a single thought for what anyone else thinks.
I personally don’t think it would be beyond Sonny Bill Williams and his management to have filled out his contract in a way that allows him to play State Of Origin in 2014.
Sonny Bill Williams was born in New Zealand. He moved to Australia at a young age, but not young enough to qualify under the current State Of Origin eligibility rules (13). Here is a little wrinkle though… Sonny Bill Williams grandmother is Australian. Technically that fully entitles him to represent Australia in 2014 if he chooses to do so under international eligibility rules.
Williams didn’t take part in the 2014 Trans-Tasman Test match for New Zealand last weekend. You can say he boycotted the team or that he wasn’t selected….either way he didn’t turn out for them. That means in the eyes of the RLIF (Which is nothing more than a letter head by the way, they have no offices, telephone numbers or even e-mail addresses) Williams is technically a free agent in terms of international football.
Williams represented New South Wales at junior level. Under the old State Of Origin eligibility rules all Williams would have had to do in 2014 is say he wanted to play State Of Origin and that would be it. Under the new rules, he technically doesn’t qualify although I see reasons for him to appeal that decision.
If Williams states that he now wants to represent Australia (Who he qualifies for thanks to his Grandmother), he could than state that as an Australian eligible representative that resides in New South Wales and who represented New South Wales at junior level, he should be allowed to play for New South Wales at State Of Origin level. The reason he could make this appeal to the NRL? Because the current rules that have been put in place do not really cover a player in Williams position.
It is almost a clash of international eligibility rules and State Of Origin eligibility rules. If you are allowed to switch nations under international rules but not State Of origin rules, that seems a little bit unfair. I agree with it personally but it is an issue that needs to be addressed. Why the State Of Origin eligibility rules would allow a player like David Mead to be eligible to switch from PNG in 2013 to NSW and Australia in 2014, but not allow that from a player that played for New Zealand or England is something I feel a good legal team could break down pretty easily.
It really would be unfair for a player to be eligible to play for Australia, to commit to playing for Australia, but under State Of Origin rules not be allowed to play for a state he represented at junior level.
Now normally you would think that the powers that be would say “Sorry Sonny Bill. We know what you are trying to do, we know you do not intend to play for Australia, we know you are trying to find a loophole in our new rules…but we are standing firm. You do not qualify under these rules and that is the end of that”. I don’t have that sort of faith in our games administrators though.
Queensland showed they were willing to lobby for Luke Keary for a few months to try and change the rules so he could play for them. They failed. New South Wales would have a much better argument for Sonny Bill Williams to be allowed to play for them, and knowing Williams is leaving the game at the end of 2014, knowing that his addition to the series would create giant headlines and a lot of money, and knowing that they could let Williams play for New South Wales under the guise of “This is a loophole in the current rules that we have to fix by allowing Australian eligible players to be able to play for their state”, I can see it happening!
Do I agree with it? Hell no! Do I want to see this happen? Of course not!
These weird wrinkles in the State Of Origin eligibility rules that don’t allow you to play for the state you were born in, or allow a player who is eligible to play for Australia but not be eligible to play Origin at all, are something that needs to be looked at. I’ve stated time and time again that I think for the health of Rugby League in Australia you should only play for the Kangaroo’s if you were born in Australia, and that at State Of Origin level you should only play for the state you were born in.
Of course, none of this matters at all if on his NRL contract Sonny Bill Williams made it clear he only wanted to represent New Zealand. While he is one of many international players to express their desire to play in the State Of Origin series, it doesn’t mean he would actually fight hard to force his way into the New South Wales side.
Still, it makes you question whether the current State Of Origin eligibility rules go far enough. I really would be strange to see a player elect to play for Australia based on the “grandparent rule” and yet have them not qualify for New South Wales or Queensland even though they played junior football in one of those states.
I can’t imagine that Williams or the NSWRL would so brazenly try to undermine the new State Of Origin eligibility rules. Then again, Queensland have a player born and raised in NSW in their side who played all of his junior football in NSW and who first represented NSW at junior level. Under any rules that have ever been in place Greg Inglis doesn’t qualify for Queensland, so stranger things have happened!
I hope for the last remaining shreds of credibility the State Of Origin eligibility rules have, this doesn’t happen. Then again, part of me kinda wants to see the shit storm it would create.
Lets hope Sonny Bill Williams is just a spectator come State Of Origin time. Hopefully from a New South Wales point of view he can invite Mitchell Pearce over to watch the game with him!
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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