Warriors star Addin Fonua-Blake wants to represent NSW if the Origin selection rules are changed and says he would have thought more carefully about playing for New Zealand if he had known it would rule him out of Blues contention.
Fonua-Blake was born in Australia and played juniors for Sydney club Mascot Jets but is currently ineligible for NSW as he represented the Junior Kiwis as a teenager in 2014 and was a member of New Zealand’s 2017 World Cup squad before switching his allegiances to Tonga.
With Tonga superstar Jason Taumalolo sparking debate over Origin eligibility after formally seeking to play for Queensland if the selection criteria are changed, Fonua-Blake said he wants to play for the Blues.
"One hundred per cent I would. I was actually born in Queensland but played my first footy in NSW," Fonua-Blake said. "If that rule gets passed and I do make the team I would love the opportunity to represent the state.
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"Obviously they have got a really good team but if they asked me to be part of the squad I would welcome it with both hands."
In a wide-ranging interview ahead of the Warriors match against Sydney Roosters at the SCG on Sunday, Fonua-Blake spoke about:
- Playing Manly next weekend for the first time since quitting the club and why he believes the Sea Eagles can turn around their dismal start to the season;
- How he and Ben Murdoch-Masila had never changed a tyre before stopping to help an elderly woman in torrential rain on the Central Coast;
- Why Origin match payments were encouraging dual-eligible players to turn their back on the Kiwis, and;
- How Taumalolo would have a similar impact on Origin as he did on the international game;
Like Fonua-Blake, Taumalolo – who moved to Queensland at the age of 13 - would be eligible for Origin if he hadn’t played for the Kiwis before leading a group of players with Tongan heritage to defect from New Zealand and Australia on the eve of the 2017 World Cup.
The move set the international game alight and because Tonga is a tier two nation many of Taumalolo and Fonua-Blake’s team-mates are able to play Origin because they are still eligible for Kangaroos selection.
However, Taumalolo, Fonua-Blake, Sydney-born Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Kiwi team-mates Brandon Smith, Jahrome Hughes, Kevin Proctor and Briton Nikora, who moved to Australia at a young age, are ineligible for Australia because players can’t switch between tier one nations.
ARLC commissioner Wayne Pearce is heading a review of the Origin selection criteria and if the requirement that players must be able to represent Australia was removed NSW and Queensland would be able to select anyone who was born or resided in the state by the age of 13.
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"I feel like that will only help grow the game," Fonua-Blake said. "Jason is one of those players who puts bums on seats - if you put more quality players in games more people will come and watch.
"If they open up the eligibility rules and Jason gets the all clear I reckon he will only help grow the game like he did with the international game."
Fonua-Blake said it had never been explained to him that by representing the Junior Kiwis against the Junior Kangaroos at WIN Stadium seven years ago he would never be able to play Origin.
He believes the Origin selection criteria discourage other players with dual eligibility from playing for New Zealand because they can earn up to $30,000 per match for NSW or Queensland while still being able to represent Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea or the Cook Islands.
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"That is just people’s preference at the moment," Fonua-Blake said. "Origin is where the coins are so that is where kids are going.
"They want to set up their families and they want to set up their lives so that is a good platform. They get paid well but it is also one of the biggest games on the rugby league calendar and all eyes are on the people who play Origin and rep footy.
"If a kid comes across and he is eligible for both he is within his rights [to choose] but I would like to see them open up the eligibility rules and hopefully more stars can play Origin, like Jason.
"I don’t have any regrets about my decisions, I just didn’t understand the selection process at the time. If I had my time again I would have definitely thought about it more."
Meanwhile, Fonua-Blake said he wasn’t looking beyond Sunday’s match against the Roosters but expected his former Sea Eagles team-mates to be fired up when he plays them for the first time next Friday night after losing their first four games.
"It’s going to be a bit weird to run out against them,” he said. “I have a soft spot for that club. Obviously, they took me on and gave me a name so I have a lot of love for the club and a lot of the players who were there for my journey through the NRL.
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"We’ll focus on this week first and worry about Manly when we get there but I definitely feel for them at the moment.
"I know the scoreboard doesn’t really show that but I feel like if they get a few things right they’ll be back to their winning ways again. Hopefully they don’t get it right next week but in the weeks after that."
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