Off the Wall

Every time I see a rugby league official talking about taking the game to the "global" stage I cringe.

One of the justifications for "Super League" in the mid-1990's was that the game need to be taken to the world stage, and that the ARL/NSWRL/QRL had neglected to do so.

You may recall statements that the game could be a household word in Beijing, in Moscow, not to mention Tokyo and New York. And it was going to be the dominant code in Samoa, Fiji and Tonga within months.

It all came to absolutely nothing. The game is less international today than it has ever been. It is dead in South Africa (we once played tests against South Africa), and in France it is but a shadow of what it was 40 years ago. And it is still not a household word in Beijing!

Recently there was some nonsense from the Titans Chairman about the Titans v Roosters final "putting the Gold Coast on the map". The Titans did not win - and the boast about the game being a massive boost for the Gold Coast fell as flat as a camels foot! The Titans are a credit to the game and don't need the distraction of such codswallop.

This week the incoming CEO of the Broncos, Paul White, talked about wanting to "build the Broncos brand globally". He comes to the position with an excellent league and business background, but one has to hope this statement can be put down to first day enthusiasm.

Isn't our real priority the South Pacific? Or shouldn't it be?

Today we find that a rising Broncos star, Josh McGuire, and the Raiders promising player, Daniel Vidot, have fallen victims of a neglect by officials of the one part of the world where rugby league can be the leading game - the South Pacific, and especially PNG, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.

Even though they qualify for the Maroons on the basis of the first club they played with as a junior, they have effectively been ruled out of future selection. Why? Because they are playing for Samoa in a friendly against the Kiwis in Auckland this weekend!

They are not alone - there are players who would qualify for the Blues, but won't be able to play if they represent the country of their birth, or the birth of one or other of their parents.

The Origin rules prevent a player who has been chosen for a country other than Australia being chosen in an Origin team for the next two years.

These rules have been broken in the past - as occurred with Adrian Lam - but it appears that the ARL has hardened its stance.

Given the fact that something like one in five players in the NRL claim a Pacific Islander or Maori heritage, and in some clubs it is much higher, rugby league should be well placed to become the dominant code in the South Pacific.

Rugby union has been the dominant game for generations - but it is clearly on the decline. The time is ripe for rugby league to use the growing influence of Pacific Islander players in the NRL, and across the game, to put rugby union out of business in the islands completely.

But how can we hope to do that when the ARL continues its hard line stance on players who represent Samoa etc not being eligible for Origin selection for two years or more?

If a player is qualified to represent the Maroons or the Blues - on the basis of their first registered club - they should be able to be considered for Samoa, PNG etc. If they elect to play international level football for Samoa, PNG etc they cease to be eligible to be a Kangaroo.

Is that really too much to ask?

Speaking of the region, Papua New Guinea is going to need all the support it can get when it takes on Australia, England and New Zealand in the four nations series that gets under way the weekend after this.

The game in our closest neighbour is not in as good a shape as it should be. Adrian Lam resigned as coach just weeks before the Kumuls team for the four nations was chosen, and the administration of the game in PNG has been in turmoil, and the courts, all year.

That is truly sad. Papua New Guinea is the one nation where it can be genuinely claimed rugby league is the national sport. The ARL has tried to help out this year, and it deserves credit for that.

The Kumuls once played regular test matches against Australia, New Zealand, England and France. For some years it has been effectively relegated to the second tier.

The four nations is an opportunity for PNG to regain a permanent place at the top level. I for one hope it is competitive enough to do so...but it has hardly been given the draw to do so. The Kumuls first match is against the Kangaroos at Parramatta Stadium on Sun day week!

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