Australian defections good for talent distribution at Rugby World Cup | Rugby League World Cup 2021

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Jhis World Cup is something of a milestone in the growth of international rugby league. In Australia, however, much of the commentary sought to stir up controversy around the defections of some of the country’s top players to other nations.

New South Wales State of Origin winger Brian To’o and teenage prodigy Joseph Suaalii headline the growing crowd who have chosen to represent the Pasifika nations of their heritage, a group including also Origin representatives Josh Papalii, Junior Paulo, Stephen Crichton, David Fifita and Siosifa Talakai. It’s a choice they say was made to reinforce the strength of their ancestral homes and honor their families.

Suaalii’s decision to represent Samoa, in particular, came as a shock given the 19-year-old had been touted as one of the youngest Australian players to don green and gold. After a stellar year for the Roosters and his inclusion in the wider Blues squad, he was set to earn selection for the Kangaroos. Instead, he chose to play for his father’s homeland.

The ensuing outrage seemingly has no end, including a push to exclude from the home state those who do not make themselves eligible for Australia – effectively advocating to restrict the game’s international growth in recent times. years.

Undisputed Australian dominance does nothing to mature the code. It confines all other nations to equally coveted status and ensures that teams from island nations, in particular, become a hodgepodge of fellow NRLs and lower-tier players who have little ambition or chance of receiving a Origin summons.

So it’s time to celebrate when the stars of Origin choose to represent Samoa and Tonga and push them both to the final – a prospect unimaginable even five years ago. State and country allegiances, given the composition of the NRL in 2022, need not be aligned. On the contrary, the NRL should work with the Rugby Football League to level match payments between nations and thus encourage a distribution of talent.

The threatening original bans on those wishing to represent a Tier 2 or Tier 3 foreign nation is an archaic, myopic view of rugby league that only serves to restrict play on Australia’s east coast, northern of England, the south of France and the south of Auckland. and Papua New Guinea. It is also disrespectful of the changing demographics of the game.

Rugby League World Cup roster: (top left to right) Jamaican Ashton Golding, Scotland’s Dale Ferguson, Australia’s James Tedesco, England’s Sam Tomkins, Samoa Junior Paulo, Fiji Kevin Naiqama, Italian Nathan Brown and Irish George King. (Bottom row, left to right) Elliot Kear of Wales, Jason Taumalolo of Tonga, Benjamin Garcia of France, Jesse Bromwich of New Zealand, Mitchell Moses of Lebanon, Jordan Meads of Greece, Rhyse Martin of Papua New Guinea and Brad Takairangi from the Cook Islands. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

New Zealand’s famous upset victory over Australia in 2008 – the only time the Kangaroos have not won the World Cup since 1972 – boosted international play. The most defining moment of this century was the decision of Jason Taumalolo and a group of Kiwi players to leave New Zealand and represent Tonga at the last World Cup. Tonga reached the semi-finals, narrowly lost to England and have since beaten Australia.

In this regard, Pasifika’s increased participation in the NRL and the willingness of these players to represent their nations of ancestry has helped to level the playing field and fueled the desire – at least among players – to make their leaves to develop the game abroad. As recently as the early 1990s, only a handful of prime minister actors identified as Maori or Pasifika. In 2011, 30% of NRLs identified as Maori or Pasifika. Eleven years later, that number had risen to 45%. The NRL claims this year that players’ parents or grandparents were born in 144 different countries.

The opportunity to develop rugby league on the international stage is clear and obvious. The game’s willingness to seize this opportunity is a whole other question. Time and time again, out of unwillingness, incompetence, inertia – or a combination of the three – she refused to invest in the shell work.

This year, 16 teams will participate in the Men’s World Cup. All but France, Jamaica and Wales will have at least one current NRL player. Countries as disparate as Lebanon, Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands all boast at least five players with NRL experience.

The rise of Lebanon is a telling story of growth with the support of leading players. The league in Lebanon started in 2000 via a group of players from Sydney of Lebanese descent. Just 22 years later, a 10-team domestic competition is in full swing in Lebanon, and at the last World Cup, the Cedars beat France and nearly upset Tonga. Parramatta Grand Finals halfback Mitchell Moses jumped at the chance to lead the nation of his offspring. Moses also represented NSW last year.

This latest iteration of the tournament once again presents an opportunity. This is the time the Aussie game needs to break its selfish cycle.

This article was last modified on October 13, 2022. An earlier version referred to “New Zealand’s famous upset victory over Australia in 2018”, rather than 2008.

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