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Grandstanding: Fixing the eligibility minefield

Daniel Anderson NRL.com Thu, Apr 19, 2012 - 3:00 PM

Feleti Mateo's eligibility highlights the difficulty the game faces on the issue, writes Daniel Anderson. Copyright: NRL Photos

Former NRL coach Daniel Anderson has a solution for solving the puzzle of which nations rugby league players can represent.

Let’s start with a talented NRL player named Feleti Mateo. Under current eligibility guidelines and criteria, Feleti qualifies for Australia under birth status. He also qualifies for Tonga under his father’s birth status, he qualifies for England under his mum’s birth status and in September 2013 he will qualify for New Zealand under residency status.

Since from November 2011, the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) will now decide which team players are eligible to play for (NSW/QLD Origin and City/Country Origin) with players answering 5 questions to assist the ARLC process. These questions are:

1.    In which State was the player born?
2.    In which State did the player play rugby league for the majority of years aged 6-18 inclusive?
3.    In which State did the player spend the majority of years at school years K-12?
4.    In which State did the player first play rugby league in a State run Junior Rep competition aged 15 years or above?
5.    For which State did the player first play rugby league at a School Representative level?

These questions suggest that Feleti Mateo is eligible for City Origin and NSW Origin representation.

The ARLC have also implemented a similar process to assist in the decision making process for eligibility of the impending NSW 20’s Origin v QLD 20’s Origin fixture. It’s a step in the right direction.

The Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) have the onerous task of eligibility in the international arena. This is very difficult, but currently eligibility can be determined by player birth, parents birth, grandparents birth and residency. Add to this that during a period between World Cups (currently this is 2008-2013) players can change their allegiance once.

This week James Tamou has highlighted the challenge the RLIF faces with eligibility, but each case must be treated on its own as many of our players have multiple eligibility possibilities. It’s not just black and white as some would suggest.

In my opinion, rugby league has a bigger international eligibility and selection problem and this is for the developing nations who want to participate in international rugby league. Developing nations are all nations who participate at the international level outside of the ‘big three’: Australia, New Zealand and England.

The eligibility for international rugby league is not significantly different from other world sports but rugby league is essentially controlled by England, New Zealand and Australia. The current eligibility guidelines are detrimental to the developing nations as the player selection pool is severely limited as the ‘big three’ dominate international destinations of players.

Consider that most NRL player contracts include bonuses for international representation of the ‘big three’, revenue streams in those nations are light years ahead and clubs in both hemispheres frown upon developing nations fixtures in the off-season as it impacts upon their rest period. (The ‘big three’ play their fixtures in this same period too).

I have been associated with club, ‘big three’ and developing nation (in my case Samoa) rugby league utopias. I have spoken to Nigel Vagana - a passionate Kiwi and Samoan representative who has a solution which fits rugby league.

Here it is:

TWO TIER ELIGIBILITY
Tier 1 - Australia, New Zealand and England
Tier 2 - All others (eg Samoa, Tonga, France, PNG, Russia, Lebanon, USA, etc)

Guidelines:
•    Once you play for a Tier 1 nation, you cannot move to another Tier 1 nation ever (no sideways movement).
•    Once you have played for a Tier 2 nation, you cannot play for another Tier 2 nation ever (no sideways movement)
•    In any calendar year, if a player is not named in a Tier 1 team, then he is eligible to drop down and play for a Tier 2 team. (You can move up/down between your Tier 1/Tier 2 nation that you have represented).

I understand it’s not easy for clubs to swallow that players may be injured playing for developing nations, but they are insured. This weekend, there are no NRL fixtures. It is a standalone rep weekend for the Kangaroos and Kiwis as well as City and Country. What’s wrong with staging games like Samoa v Tonga in Brisbane, Fiji v Cook Islands in Suva and Italy v Lebanon at Parramatta?

Why can’t we stage an international festival this weekend?

Has anyone asked someone like Feleti Mateo, Anthony Minichiello or Frank Pritchard if they are not selected for Australia (or City/NSW) or New Zealand if they would like to play for Tonga, Italy or Samoa, without reprisals?

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