The long-running debate over the eligibility of a player from the state of origin came back to life this week when Five-cap Blues player Brian To’o stated that he would represent Samoa over Australia at the Rugby League World Cup later this year.
Current rules allow players to represent ‘Tier Two’ countries (such as Samoa, Tonga, Fiji or PNG), but will not be eligible for Origin if they choose to represent ‘Tier One’ countries New Zealand or England .
That system has helped develop international rugby competition, with teams like Samoa and Tonga making leaps and bounds in recent years thanks to the Origin experience of star players – and Tonga, for example, has recently beaten both Australia and New Zealand.
But the game now faces a tough decision about Origin’s future suitability – and whether the game should choose to make Origin for players who want to represent the kangaroos, or open Origin to players from all countries.
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Fox League pundit Paul Kent stated that Origin is not necessary to increase availability – arguing that Origin should only be for players looking to represent Australia on the international stage.
Otherwise, he says, Origin players representing rivals will “weaken Australia’s position” in the international arena.
NRL 360 presenter Braith Anasta said: “International rugby competition is great, and it will be great for the game. We want to grow it and it gets better every year.
“The fear is that it could affect our biggest spectacle, Origin. If it affects state vs state, hate vs hate – that’s what this game is, it’s been the biggest spectacle. There’s some magic dust sprinkled on Origin that you can’t explain… Will it still be like that if the rules change the way they are?
The rule change situation Anasta referred to is a likely reclassification from Tonga, if not Samoa and other teams, to Tier One countries when the international rugby league board meets in December.
Paul Kent told NRL 360, “We’re going down this path where there’s an increasing story about opening Origin to everyone.”
“It brings us to this argument about Origin, whether it’s the best of the best or it’s NSW vs QLD, where anyone who plays is eligible to be picked for Australia.”
If Origin features players who regularly represent international rivals, Kent said: “That keeps out a young kid who might be playing for NSW and could be playing for Australia.”
Kent added: “We need to change the rules again, we need to find out what they (Polynesian Origin players) can do! You don’t want players playing for NSW and QLD who have declared they don’t want to play for Australia because eventually they will. weaken Australia’s position.”
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Paul Kent continued: “There are those who are arguing for opening Origin now to keep it as the best of the best, as it was always advertised, opening Origin now to allow even Tier 1 countries. So you will have Kiwis, England players.”
But The Daily Telegraph‘s Paul Crawley replied: “That’s never going to happen, people won’t allow that.
“The players we’re talking about here grew up in Australia and they’ve earned the right to play for NSW.
“But this is a problem that the NRL has to face, the whole rugby league has to face. Because it won’t get any better unless they fix the problem.
Crawley added: “When Origin started… At that point, there were probably a handful of Polynesian players in the league. Now they make up almost 50 percent of the competition.”
“The game is changing,” Kent agrees. “The game has to address this, or they change this, I don’t know… we’re getting more and more Polynesian players, which is great for the game.”
And Kent focused on the story that Origin is about “the best of the best,” turning the clock back to the format’s debut in 1980.
Kent said: “Everyone is saying that Origin should still have the best players because without the best players it won’t be the spectacle we all know and love.
“When Origin started, a young kid ran away from the first game to play lock for Queensland. Nobody knew who he was. His name was Wally Lewis.
“There was another child in the centers on his 20th birthday named Mal Meninga. No one in Sydney knew who he was.
Chris Close was that other chubby little kid’s play center. Man of the match in that game. No one knew who he was,” he said
Kent continued: “It wasn’t a spectacle because they weren’t the best of the best…they built the Origin concept on the backs of these guys who we all thought weren’t up to the mark.” [elite level]†
He summed up his argument by stating, “I say we won’t lose anything by saying to the boys from Tonga and Samoa, ‘Keep playing there, build your country, become a tier 1 nation, take on the Aussies. But if you go there, you’re not eligible to play Origin.’”
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