Fiji players before a Test match.

Civoniceva: International league should be pinnacle of the game

Petero Civoniceva might have played 33 State of Origin matches for Queensland, but he thinks the international game should be viewed as the rugby league's grandest stage.

The rugged prop, who played 45 matches for Australia and six for Fiji during a stellar international career, said representing one's country should be the aim of all players.

"Above all, all rugby league players should aspire to represent their country – even if it's for a tier two nation. The ultimate dream should always be to play for your nation," the Hall of Fame candidate told this week's edition of Big League magazine. 

"These days, State of Origin seems to be the pinnacle of the rugby league calendar, but I think that's wrong. The pinnacle should always be representing your country and recognising your heritage in the international arena."

"I'd love to see Test football being put at the top for every rugby league player." 

Civoniceva said that while Tests involving the "Big Three" of Australia, England and New Zealand would always garner plenty of interest, this week's Pacific Tests were just as important.

"This weekend's games highlight the huge representation of Pacific players playing rugby league,” he said.

"From the highest level in the NRL to reserve grade and the juniors, there are many Polynesian players from these island countries, and this is why we need more international games.

"Obviously, the likes of Australia, England and New Zealand have been the powerhouses of rugby league for such a long time, but the game is now seeing the emergence of Pacific nations that have strong representation in the NRL. The level of competition from these tier two nations is going to be greater."

"It's important that we play these matches regularly. We need to find room in the calendar to have a Pacific tournament each year, or something of that nature. These countries need the opportunity to play amongst themselves, but also deserve the chance to compete against the three big countries."

The state of Fijian rugby league is close to Civoniceva's heart. He said the push for a side from Fiji to play in the Intrust Super Premiership was an important part of future development. 

"Fijian players need a local pathway in Australia's second-tier competition. The [PNG] Hunters have proven it can be done, winning the grand final in their first three years and then going on to the national final last year, which was a huge achievement in such a short amount of time.

"If we can improve the pathways, hopefully we can rise up the world standings accordingly.

"We're aiming for 2019, but if that doesn't happen, we'll definitely be trying for 2020. It's inevitable that it’ll happen, but at the moment it's about putting the framework together and we're working hard with NSWRL to ensure that all their requirements are met."