Rugby League in Great Britain is complex.
It is small minded and yet at the same time it has this inflated opinion of itself. It is closed off and proud of its ability to not need any outside influences, and yet pounds its chest in triumph at the capture of a foreign player or coach.
Today, Rugby League in Great Britain raised the white flag.
The England Rugby League team today called up New Zealand born Maori representative Rangi Chase into their Four Nations squad. Just a couple of months ago, Chase won Man Of The Match honours while playing for the Rugby League Exiles team, against England.
There is no going back now.
I have made two major points about the English Rugby League team recently and I need to clarify those points right now.
I have said that within the next 5-7 years, the majority of the England team would be drawn from the NRL. This has happened faster than I could have even imagined, with a number of English born players showing what they can do in a fully professional, elite environment.
This is great! That England can call on the likes of Gareth Widdop, Gareth Ellis, the Burgess brother, even English born and Australian raised Jack Reed, this is fantastic for the English side and they will benefit greatly from it.
My second point was controversial at the time but now seems a lot less so.
I have said that the England Rugby League team should look at drafting in a foreign born halfback (scrum half) if one of great quality was available. England are not producing halfbacks, they haven’t for decades now. If they could draft in an elite Australian halfback who maybe couldn’t break into an Australian rep side, and have him guide the England team around the park as a gun for hire, they should go for it.
If England won the Four Nations with someone like a Cooper Cronk at halfback….English fans would not care at all. They would enjoy it just as much.
What we are seeing now however is that the Rugby Football League have decided to form an English franchised team to represent all of Great Britain. They will strip Ireland, Wales and Scotland of any talent they deem to be good enough to play for this franchise. They will then dip into their import pool and offer foreign players a place in this franchised team under the flimsiest of international rules, by which NO ONE abides, and they will do so without any shame.
England have already got Chris Heighinton on board, who was born in Australia and who has only chosen to play for England because he realized he would not ever get a game for New South Wales. They tried to get young Australian born halfback Dale Cherry-Evans to play for England, but he wanted none of it. Last year they drafted in Willie Manu. This year they have brought Rangi Chase on board.
The fact that they have a brilliant young five-eight in Gareth Widdop seems to have been dismissed, they brought in Chase anyway. How do you think that makes Widdop feel?
The Rugby Football League always had the draw for English players of “Play at home, play for the clubs you grew up supporting, then play for your nation”.
Now, with NRL clubs offering a higher profiles to players, the ability to earn money outside of their club contracts and the ability to earn more money on those club contract….now the RFL isn’t even offering test jerseys because they are going to foreigners anyway.
The RFL has clearly turned its back on English players.
This is all the result of the inmates running the asylum. The RFL, ARL and NZRL set the rules, then break those rules at the drop of a hat when it suits them.
Teams like Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Tonga, Fiji, PNG and Samoa are now just seen as feeder teams of no importance. Rules that WERE put in place to allow these teams to draw on some experiences, professional talent in an era when they were not producing must talent of their own have now been turned around so that when these teams do produce and elite player, they are just drafted into the Australian, New Zealand or English teams.
New Zealand used to draft into their team anyone that was of any sort of Pacific Islands heritage. In recent years, they have been able to turn away from that policy as they produced their own outstanding, home grown talent.
In Australia, the ARL looking to draft in Pacific Island talent to try and comeback New Zealand growing dominance.
It is no a coincidence at all that as Queensland, and eventually New South Wales, looked to draft in New Zealand and Pacific Islanders players, Australia started a decline that saw them lose the Tri Nations title, the Four Nations title, and the big one, the Rugby League World Cup.
Over the last decade, the Australian Rugby League has been such a farce of an organization that the Independent Commission is being formed so it can be dissolved. Hopefully the Independent Commission see’s the issues within the Australian game and addresses them with stronger eligibility rules that will protect the Australian game.
Australia has the ability to fix itself. It has a massive junior development system, the money and resources as well as the raw athletic talent to run out an Australian born and bread team tomorrow, and still be a tough side to beat.
England does not have that luxury. They don’t have the ability to regenerate their player pool.
When you consider the way the English game is declining at such a rapid rate, with clubs going bust, crowds down, a pathetic broadcasting contract, poor player development and now foreign players dominating the test team, what can the future possibly hold for Rugby League in England, and by extension, Great Britain?
This is a very sad day.
I grew up watching English players that tried their arses off. They were brilliant, but they gave it their all and they weren’t far off beating Australia once or twice.
Things changed in 1995 as the levels of professionalism in Australia jumped considerably and Great Britain were just unable to follow, for what ever reason.
To get to a point where we will now watch four teams badged as international Rugby League teams, all of which make heavy use of foreign imports, is a disgrace. It shows the that people running our game are completely incompetent. They have no interest in what happens to Rugby League, as long as they are seen to be keeping their own interests healthy.
The tragic thing is, this is so easy to fix.
You can play for the country you were born in. If you want to change allegiances, you can. You have to do it legally, you have to become a naturalized citizen of that nation, and there is no going back.
That you could fix International Rugby League with the above paragraph is the most frustrating thing in the world. That one paragraph would give us an incredibly strong Tongan and Samoan side. It would bring Australia and New Zealand back to the field a little. It would allow nations to show their true standing in this game.
More importantly, Rugby League would become one sport that could claim that its international representative team were true representative teams. Credibility would follow, as would the interest of a wider audience, and with that, more money flowing into international team.
My dream is that we end up watching Australia taking on Samoa, while New Zealand takes on Tonga, and any combination of results could come about from those games. I want to see Fiji and PNG playing in a Tri Nations competition with England, in a series where the result is wide open.
It would take so little to make this happen. We have so many great pacific islanders in our game and they want to represent their own countries….but it is impossible to turn down the money they get offered in a single game for Australia, New Zealand or England.
Until the international eligibility rules are fixed and the running of the international game is taken out of the hands of the RFL, ARL and RFL, international Rugby League is little more than a show.
It is a group of exhibition games used to lure in hardcore fans like you and me who dream of the good old days of real contests between national teams.
I hope that one day we can return watching true test football. Until then, we have to watch this face that is created by men in suits who care about nothing but self interest and free trips to Singapore.
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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