Radradra: The Seminal issue

Semi Radradra’s anticipated switch of international eligibility from Fiji to Australia has thrown up a huge can of worms.

One person tweeted me with the news: “It’s a dark day for our sport”. A tad emotional, perhaps, but I tend to agree.

I can understand why Radradra wants to play for the Kangaroos. He’ll earn a hell of a lot more money, his profile will grow, and he probably also wants to play State of Origin – he can’t, the rules have been changed and he didn’t play rugby league in either state before the age of 13, so that rules him out of that arena.

Radradra provides for his family, probably relatives in his homeland as well, and surely he wants to play at the top level. The residency rules, making him eligible for Australia after living in the country for three years, allow him to switch countries. Apparently he could earn $160,000 more. It’s hard to blame the 23-year old.

But here’s where’s it’s interesting. Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga doesn’t have to pick him and shouldn’t. Because if he does, we might as well get rid of international rugby league well and truly.

Australia doesn’t need Radradra. They have Darius Boyd, the Morris brothers, Alex Johnston, Josh Mansour, Will Hopoate, Tom Trbojevic, Will Chambers, Dane Gagai and a host of talented players who can take the wing spots in the green and gold.

Don’t get me wrong, Radradra is a freak. He was the top try-scorer in 2015 and he’s quickly become a cult figure in the NRL. I love watching him play, he’s like a Fijian version of Martin Offiah.

But the Kangaroos don’t need him and Fiji certainly does need him. Rugby League in Fiji is not a big sport, rugby union is the top code in the Pacific nation by far.

But the 13-man code is growing there, with an impressive performance in the 2013 World Cup and the entry of a Fijian side into the NSW Cup planned for next year key initiatives.

Fijian talent like Marika Korobiete, Akila Uate (who has played for both NSW and Australia already – don’t get me started), Radradra, Eto Nabuli and Sisa Waqa, are vital as ambassadors for rugby league in the islands. They show the path is there, that young Fijian kids can follow them and achieve their dreams as well.

If Radradra gives the Bati jersey away we might as well give up on the international game.

In reality we have three top, strong countries – Australia, New Zealand and England. That’s it.

Below that is a big drop, but there has been some encouraging signs of late. Samoa, Tonga, Scotland and Fiji have made strides. Papua New Guinea is a hotbed of the game.

France can compete at times, and produce talent, as can Wales. There is some progress in other countries like Italy, Ireland and the US, but the difference between the ‘Big Three’ and the rest is massive. What we need to do is enhance and support the second and third tier countries, encourage growth and help their national teams. Not take their best players.

We need to introduce proper payments for Test matches. Even the Kiwis struggle to pay their players for international games.

We need to change the residency rule from three years to five. We need to drop the grandparent clause. No more embarrassing Nathan Fien fiascos.

We need to try and make it a more level playing field, not help the ‘Big Three’ get stronger and stronger.

It might a pie in the sky stuff, but there has to be some plan and thinking. Right now is a turning point in the future of international rugby league.

Over to you Mal. Let’s hope you make the right choice.

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