Semi Radradra And The Questions Surrounding International Eligibility Rules

Fijian born Parramatta Eels winger Semi Radradra has made it know that he would like to represent Australia after becoming an Australian citizen.

That is great news.

Australia is a really good Rugby League nation to play for. It pays its test players more money than any other test playing nation and tends to win a lot of international trophies. In short, if you play for Australia, its a fairly sweet ride. Who wouldn’t want to play for Australia!

Obviously there is a problem here and it is one that international Rugby League has been wrestling with since the mid 1990’s. Eligibility rules went straight out the window during the Super League War as all and sundry looked to bolster representative teams with any players they could possibly slip through giant loopholes in eligibility rules that hadn’t been updated in a very long time.

Eligibility rules were updated a couple of years ago but still left issues for the game to face. For instance…

Queensland born Luke Keary would love to play for Queensland in the State Of Origin series. However, under the current rules, he isn’t allowed to.

Semi Radradra may also fall into this grey zone as he does not qualify to play for New South Wales in the State Of Origin series, but he now qualifies to play for Australia.

It just doesn’t makes sense…

What this all comes down to, for the most part, is money and greed.

If a player can switch his elegance to Australia and earn a State Of Origin call up, he could possibly earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more over the course of his career than he would by playing for any other Rugby League nation in the world.

State Of Origin is a massive money spinner. Players who take part in the series earn more money per game than any other players in the Rugby League world. That isn’t even taking into account bonuses players can receive within their club contracts for making that step up in representative level.

I don’t begrudge players for all wanting a piece of the State Of Origin pie. Rugby League players are professional athletes. State Of Origin is where the money is. Of course they want to be part of it!

The states, both NSW and QLD, are also driven by money. Winning a State Of Origin series is worth a lot of money to both states in terms of advertising revenue and gate taking in the following series. Think about how many millions of dollars the QRL spun their series winning streak into. Obviously this pushes both states to win at all costs, and so trying to abide by the “spirit” of eligibility rules isn’t the first thing on their minds.

That is why we need eligibility rules in the first place.

Rugby League really needs to ask itself what it wants out of representative football. I know what I would like to see. I’d like to see true representative teams. I want to see a group of players who were born in NSW taking on a group of players who were born in QLD. Seems simple enough!

At international level I would love to see something similar. I want to see how players that were born in France play against players that were born in Papua New Guinea. I want to see players who were born in the United States taking on players that were born in Samoa.

I like to see those sorts of contests. I like to see the different styles of play. I like to see nations at different levels of their Rugby League evolution facing off against one other.

Is that the wrong thing to want from the international game? Am I all by myself in wishing representative Rugby League was structured this way?

When I see Australia run out against New Zealand and both sides are peppered with players born and raised in each others countries, the entire contest loses something for me. I want to see how Australian Rugby League players match up against New Zealand Rugby League players. I don’t want some sort of bastardized all star game that is won and lost because one side was able to recruit better than the other.

This is where Semi Radradra comes into the argument once again…

Until the likes of New Zealand and England can pull their finger out and put together a domestic representative contest that generates enough money that they can offer the same financial incentives that State Of Origin does, we are always going to see players pushing to play for Australia over these nations. This balance is further skewed when you look at other Rugby League playing nations, who simply can not put together a series like State Of Origin and who can not compete with the payments made to Australian test players.

The worst part of all of this is that Australia’s cannibalization of its international opponents undermines the overall strength of the international game. That leads to Australia’s opponents being unable to compete on the field with the Kangaroos. As a result, the Kangaroos find that by taking the very best players they can, they are left with very few top class players to compete against, and that undermines their own brand and the game overall over the long term.

It is a vicious cycle that no one within the game seems bothered by.

As a Rugby League supporter I want to see a Fijian team with its very best players available playing against an Australian team with its very best players available. I don’t want to watch Fiji run out with its best player on the opposition side and then wonder why its impossible to see competitive international games between Australia and anyone not called New Zealand!

So how do we fix this problem within Rugby League?

Basically, we can’t. Unless we were able to put as much value into international Rugby League as we do the State Of Origin series, we are simply working against numbers that are too big to overcome.

I have proposed in the past that we should look at having a three year World Cup cycle, an independent international governing body that runs the international game, and look to cut back a few rounds of the NRL season to allow for representative windows that would allow nations to play against one another mid season, thereby generating some sort of income which can go back into allowing these same nations to build their strength. Unfortunately that seems like way too radical an idea in a current era where administrators are solidly behind maintaining the status quo.

If Semi Radradra wants to play for Australia, he should be allowed to. The rules state he can play for the Kangaroos now. He is well within his rights to walk away from the nation of his birth and, as a professional athlete, look to make as much money as possible by playing for Australia.

It will be very beneficial to Radradra, it will be hailed as a success by Australian officials, it will be copied by those within New Zealand and England, and the rest of the Rugby League playing world are just going to have to cop it on the chin.

This is what happens when your sport is run by under-qualified, self interested administrators.

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