Opinion: Rubbery Eligibility Rules

By BRIAN LOWE

WHEN you think of the Rugby League World Cup it conjures up notions of one of the best sporting tournaments on the planet.

Excellent product, the best players in the world producing a lot of competitive games and when it gets to the end you’re left jonesin’ for more.

I mean c’mon, in terms of TV sports products it’s one of the best there is. It certainly leaves its rugby union counterpart for dead.

Who can forget that memorable semi-final between England and New Zealand at the 2013 RLWC – it was one of the best games of rugby league you’ll ever see.

You follow your favourite team. You get that feeling of ecstasy, national pride and yes, they can beat anyone on their day. Maybe not so much when they lose of course but you’re into it nonetheless.

You feel so good about those guys running out there wearing the jersey of your country. It just doesn’t get any better than that, right?

The Rugby League World Cup is seriously one of the best sporting events in so many ways. It’s a legitimate, genuine tournament that generally features hotly contested, well played games. Sure, there are blowouts and mismatches here and there but that happens at any World Cup regardless of the sport.

However, for all the positives there is one big negative. The one blight on the RLWC is the eligibility rules implemented by the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF). Frankly, they’re a joke.

Less than a month out from the start of RLWC 2017, we’ve already seen too many examples of why these rules are ridiculous.




And just to be clear, this is what I’m referring to. The rule whereby a player who is not selected by the big three – Australia, New Zealand, England – can then opt to play for a tier two nation, which by the way is everyone else.

You might ask yourself well, what’s wrong with that? Surely it helps the tier two countries pick better teams which in turn makes the RLWC more competitive?

Nothing and yes would be the initial answers but here’s the rub. What it in fact does is it enables players to flip-flop between countries and haven’t we seen plenty of that lately?

Jason Taumalolo was the first player to make the headlines when seemingly out of nowhere he announced to the world that he didn’t want to play for New Zealand and instead would turn out for Tonga.

There has been a lot of conjecture about the rationale for his decision, most of it suggesting it was in protest at Kiwis Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor being omitted from the squad as punishment for being busted snorting cocaine in Canberra after the ANZAC Test against Australia earlier this year.

The reason is irrelevant because under the rules he’s allowed to do what he did.

Very soon afterwards, Andrew Fifita surprised everyone by announcing he too would be playing for Tonga despite the fact that just days before he’d been selected in the Australian side. What makes that even more farcical is that Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has since come out saying Fifita could still be selected for Australia in future. Huh?

Then you have the most asinine case of them all where Jarryd Hayne will play for Fiji, again.

Here’s the thing about this guy. He first played for the Fijians in 2008 and again in 2009 before being picked in the Australian squad for 12 Tests. So, he played for Fiji at the 2008 RLWC, then for Australia at the 2013 RLWC and now he’s turning out again for the Bati.

Seems like this NRL to the NFL, to rugby sevens and back to the NRL code hopper can’t make up his mind what he wants to play, or who he wants to play for.

Another flip-flopper is Michael Jennings, who will play for Tonga after previously representing Australia.

While it can be argued that these examples may be good news for tier two nations, it can be equally argued that the rule can be a bad thing for those same countries.

Take the United Statews for example. Two guys who played for them at the 2013 World Cup have been named by Samoa for this RLWC, and one of them was the former American captain.

Joseph Paulo and Junior Paulo, both NRL players, have family origins in American Samoa, which made them eligible for the US in the first place. Joseph skippered the then-Tomahawks in 2013 and was a key part of their successful run into the playoff rounds in their first ever appearance at a RLWC.

The US has named a reasonable squad, although they don’t have any flip-floppers on their roster and will be up against it because their opposition do.

In and of itself, the eligibility rule is probably a good thing in general because it can help tier two nations but where it’s rubbery is that it enables the flip-flopping to be ongoing.

A better alternative would be to make it so that depending on his circumstances, a player has the option to decide which country he wants to play for but once he makes that decision it’s final. Done. No more chopping and changing after that.

Fix that up and rugby league will be better off.

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