A Look At Why Rugby League Eligibility Rules Need Changed

Last night Australia selected New Zealand born and raised James Tamou to play for the Kangaroo’s. He will go on to play for New South Wales in the State Of Origin series. It is a move that has caused uproar among fans and the media.

Nobody feels like this is the right thing to be happening. Everyone feels at though the system needs changed. But how did we get here? Why does this happen?

Imagine being an 18 year old footballer who comes from overseas. One day you get a phone call from one of Rugby League greatest ever players.

They tell you how great you are. How you have caught their eye. They tell you that you are one of the players they want to play for their State Of Origin team one day. The best part is, you don’t have to do anything at all. Just keep playing footy with your mates. When the time comes, you’ll get the call.

Incredible. You would be so excited. You go home and tell your family. Then you sit down and you work it out.

You’re living in Australia. You have done for a number of years now. You have been picked in all of the schoolboys rep sides. You’re eligible to play for another nation, the nation of your birth, but then you do the math.

If you play in one State Of Origin game, you will make $10,000 for that appearance. Play in all three, and that is $30,000. Go on to make the Australian Test side that plays between 2 and 6 games a year….you’re starting to get towards $80,000 extra dollars a year you could earn on top of what you earn at club level! That isn’t even mentioning the extra money you will earn from your club contract as a reward for making any of these teams!

You’re a young man following a dream to be a professional Rugby League player. Any money you will earn will not only make a huge difference to your life, but to your families lives.

Do you think you would turn your back on the possibility of earning an extra $80,000 a year to go and play for your country of birth against amateur opposition, in games that aren’t even shown on TV, and games that will probably cost you money from your own pocket to go and play in?

It is not even a choice that needs to be made.

These are professional Rugby League players. If someone offers them more money to play for another team, they will take it.

Rangi Chase didn’t decide to play for England for another other reason than that it put guaranteed money into his pocket. He was no chance of ever playing a test match for New Zealand, he just isn’t good enough. By electing to play for England, he gets a match payment in every test match they play in.

Its a good earn.

When Akuila Uate made a submission to the RLIF (See ARL/RFL) to switch from playing for Fiji to Australia, the main reason he put down was that he would lose possible representative payments he could have earned under his club contract if he played for Australia, and they would not kick in if he continued to play for Fiji!

It is all about money.

Sure players can chose to play for who ever they like, but as professional sportsmen, the choice is pretty simple.

Imagine what you could do with an extra $80,000 a year on top of what you earn right now. Would you turn that down? Of course not!

The way the current system is set up, there is no alternative other than to play for Australia, New Zealand or England.

Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Wales, Scotland, Ireland….the list goes on and on of nations that are nothing more than feeder teams for Australia, New Zealand and England.

So, what can be do to change the current system? Is it truly possible to change the current system?

The ARLC should be looking to set up alternative representative games for junior players from New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Recently the ARLC set up an Under 20’s State Of origin series between NSW and QLD. They then had the audacity to say that this series would have no baring on the country a young players chooses to play their Test football for.

Come to Australia, play for the Australian Schoolboys, Play for the NSW Under 20’s team, be at the doorstep of riches…..but turn your back on it all and play for someone else. Yeah….nice one….

It is possible to fix all of these issues, and quite simply as well.

Eligibility rules needs to be updated to reflect the modern society we live in which it is far easier and cheaper to travel than it once was and the lines of communication are so good that moving to a different country no longer is the giant leap it once was.

Eligibility rules should be extremely simple.

You play for the country or state you are born in.

That’s it! Imagine if Rugby League was the only sport where representative teams are truly representative of the nations we saw on the field?

I’ve always said, the lure of international competition is about seeing what happens when a bunch of Australians play a bunch of New Zealanders. So how do we get back to this idea?

What we should have are two clear tiers of representative football that are completely controlled by the ARLC and played under “You play for the country you were born in” rules.

We should have three stand alone representative weekends every year where no club football is played.

On the Friday night we should see Under 20’s teams playing with a rotation of games between Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands playing games.

On Saturday night New Zealand should play one game of a three test series against a combined Pacific Islands team. These games would be incredible to watch and the New Zealand public would get behind them.

On Sunday night with a 7pm kickoff we would have State Of Origin, played between actual Australians! Playing for the State they were actually born in!

I can not see a problem with making any of this happen.

Controlled by the ARLC, all the money made from these games would basically be pooled and used to provide match payments to players to play in these games. So no longer would we see New Zealand players earning less then their Australian counterparts. A Pacific Islands player would actually have an opportunity to play high profile games and earn as much as they would if they were eligible to play State Of origin football.

No one misses out in terms of the football being payed, and the money being made. That is the key to all of this standing up.

Now some people will point to players like Hazem El Masri, who was born in Lebanon, moved to Australia as a child and under my rules would not have been able to play for NSW or Australia.

We will run into players in Hazem El Masri’s situation more and more, simply because of the nature of Australia and New Zealands immigration policies. One day we will have to accommodate these players and it may mean adding a “Rest Of The World” team or even a Barbarians style team to the mix.

However, as we stand today, we need to fix a major problem with representative football and we can not stop that process because it doesn’t quite work out for a handful of players.

I always imagine that in 30 years from now people will look back at the current era of State Of Origin football, where players from other countries are actively recruited by the coaches and players swap between states. I hope they look back, wonder why we tried to screw things up so badly, and are able to point to a day when the rules were simplified and set in stone so that representative football was all about representing the place you come from.

The way it should be.

Don’t blame the young blokes that switch countries of states. The economic opportunities laid down in from of them are too goo to turn their backs on.

James Tamou is a professional football player. He make a living off selling a commodity, his athletic ability. He has seen a gap in the market and an opportunity to generate more money for himself.

The people to blame are the coaches and the administrators of the game.

The coaches who, driven by the need to succeed and keep their jobs, will look outside the normal player base, who will then go to administrators and tell them players they would like. The administrators are then happy to change rules, or even completely break rules, because don’t for a second think that a winning representative team is easier to sell sponsorship and corporate boxes for than a losing side.

The likes of the NSWRL and QRL don’t care about the players that were born and raised in their state. They have money to generate and anyone that can help that process is fine by them!

This is the reason why we need hard and fast eligibility rules that have no room to be massaged and no room for changed.

There is no reason why Rugby League can not be a sport in which you truly see representative football.

Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, England, Wales, Papua New Guinea, France, the United States…..none of these teams NEED to be filled out by players that weren’t born and raised in these countries.

We don’t need to drag in blow ins, these nations all have player bases that will do the same job.

All we need now is an administration that is ready to lead the way and fix this mess. To bring back representative Rugby League from its current farce and make it actually mean something again.

Over to you John Grant.

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