In NRL news this week it has come to light that Queensland coach Mal Meninga is interested in bring Canterbury Bulldogs NZ born prop Sam Kasiano into his Origin squad for the decider.
Recently North Queensland prop James Tamou jumped ship to wear the Australian and New South Wales’ jersey, after having already spent time in a Kiwi’s tri-nations training squad. Likewise it is believed that Kasiano recently signed a letter of intent to play for the Kiwis.
These issues have raised a great deal of criticism from across the Tasman, where the likes of NZRL high performance general manager Tony Kemp are understandably angered.
But what is this sort of thing doing for rugby league? As a fan, I personally have to say that although a staunch Kiwi supporter, the feeling is that Origin is the pinnacle of Rugby League. Far superior in every aspect then test matches.
The money that players make for Origin rep honors is said to be huge. So spouting off lines about ‘playing for the money’ comes naturally to critics. But lets face it. Most players, whether Australian, New Zealand, British or Papua New Guinean would love the chance to test their mettle in the fire of Origin football.
Players like Kasiano have likely been standouts through their entire time in rugby league. As a kid giants like Tamou and Kasiano would have stood out, and been seen as prospects for the ‘big time’. To play your entire career with a mark of expectation, but never have a chance to prove yourself in the toughest league match on the planet would only be disappointing.
Kiwi supporters will all be disappointed, and rightly so. It’s only natural to want the best players wearing the white V. But those of us on the sidelines are lucky in that we don’t have to make a choice to pursue a dream such as a spot in the NSW or Queensland teams, because we’d never have to make it.
These players on the other hand, who still hold important and meaningful ties to the country of their birth that go beyond the scope of sports will have to put up with the ‘traitor’ tag for the rest of their life. It’s a sad thing when sports start to dictate life in this way.
Of course there is the argument that in order for rugby league to develop globally, it needs the best players representing their respective nations. But officials in New Zealand need to face the reality of what they’re up against. There is a great deal more money in Australia, and the quality of test match football just isn’t consistent enough to have the emotional appeal of State Of Origin.
Whinging isn’t the answer. Nor is taking shots at those players who do commit to Australia. The solution that puts test match rugby league on par with Origin isn’t going to come from trying to stop players realizing their dreams. The key lies in making today’s test matches more meaningful to the youngsters looking on, and not just blaming the Aussies for having a heavier wallet. How they might remedy all that is still a mystery. It’s obvious that winning world cups and tri-nations hasn’t done it.
Ultimately, wearing the maroon or sky blue jersey is something special, and the appeal is obvious. Kiwi-Aussie rivalry is strong across all sports so that should show more then anything else how much it means to these players to have the opportunity to turn their back on New Zealand league to play Origin. It’s something to savour, and in the long run, it’s probably worth it.