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Players have spoken, time we listen

Players have spoken, time we listen
Former trans-Tasman rivals and new Tonga teammates Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita. Copyright: NRL Photos.

Jason Taumalolo has given rugby league's decision makers the perfect platform to finally make the international game relevant but failure to act will make this the latest in a growing list of embarrassments at rep level.

By choosing to play for Tonga rather than New Zealand, Taumalolo – one of the highest paid players in the game it must be said – has effectively given permission for the Rugby League International Federation to standardise Test match payments. 

We will never know if Andrew Fifita would have made a similar leap had Taumalolo not jumped first but in doing so they have legitimised the notion that players will put patriotism ahead of a pay day.

 


The issue that the game has had to wrangle with in the past decade is that the financial enticements to play State of Origin have been so great that players with shared allegiances have chosen Australia ahead of all others.

Now that Taumalolo and Fifita have chosen Tonga the rules should be changed so that they are not seen as casual mercenaries but pioneers who saw the opportunity to do a greater good.

State of Origin has worked for 35 years because the players taking part have held deep-seated pride in where they come from.

Representative football doesn't have to be the best of the best concentrating their talents into two or three teams but simply pitting two passionate teams against each other who are both playing for something greater than themselves.

Anyone who recalls the days of City and Country Firsts or interstate clashes before the introduction of the Origin concept know that there were pride in performances that rarely led to victories on the scoreboard.

They were games that mattered because the players who were chosen were selected to represent the region that had raised them, developed them into people who would go on to be outstanding footballers.

When Queensland teams have defied belief to turn certain defeat into victory time and time again they do it thinking about the importance a win means to the entire state, not the $30,000 deposit due to drop into their account a week later.

When the Blues and Maroons meet each year we should showcase and celebrate the game's richly diverse backgrounds by lining the Kiwi team up against a Pacific All Stars side in a three-match series to be played throughout New Zealand. 

Economic realities dictate that Tests involving the Kangaroos and Kiwis generate greater levels of revenue but this is the opportunity to make remuneration less of a reason to play for a particular nation. 

If the Kangaroos play a Test, we must make similar opportunities available to other nations as happens with international soccer matches.

Make each Test appearance worth $5,000 to every Test representative of every nation and see who wants to play for which country. 

Think you're being dudded as a Kangaroo or Kiwi by not receiving a greater share of the revenue generated? Step aside because there are plenty waiting to take your place.

A World Cup cannot be considered a success if three-quarters of the semi-finalists are exactly the same every four years.

Given the events of the past few days this shapes as one of the most evenly contested World Cups since 1954 because even though the Kangaroos will be overwhelming favourites New Zealand, England, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and even Papua New Guinea will be now looking at the draw and thinking that a place in the final is not beyond them.

If we can harness the opportunity now before us the 16 teams due to take part in 2021 will arrive in England truly representing the nations whose jerseys they will be wearing.

Although they did so in regrettable circumstances, now that Taumalolo and Fifita have declared their true allegiance they should forego further selection for the Kiwis and Blues.

Our challenge as a game is to make sure that this is a decision they can be proud of and not one that they come to regret.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of NRL.com.

 

 

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