By Brad Eveleigh ( @Brad_Eveleigh )
It is the eve of Game 1 in the 2013 Rugby League State of Origin series.
Dubbed as the most anticipated series ever – which is what it is labeled as every year.
New South Wales have the double home ground advantage at ANZ Stadium this year as the Queensland juggernaut look to make it 8-straight series wins.
Year after year, prior to Game 1, the endless banter crosses from both sides of the boarder. Everything from wins, to history, to players, to how may teeth you have, it just goes on and on.
The most publicised and sensitive debate is player eligibility. Who rightly belongs in a Blue or Maroon jersey?
The difference between having one of the greatest player of all time wearing the wrong colour can result in a generation of losses to those claiming to be “screwed over”.
It causes confusion globally as to what the rules really are, especially when people from other countries play for either the Toads of the Roaches. To be selected for Origin football you must be classed as “Australian”. I highlight that word, as the theory can be very confusing.
As and example, Jarryd Hayne has represented Fiji (and New South Wales), Tonie Carroll has played for New Zealand (and Queensland), the list goes on.
It all comes down to the age you moved here, where you played juniors, where you first played representative football blah blah blah. Did you know that one of the all time Origin greats for QLD, Gordon Tallis, played his first representative game for NSW?
I want to focus on the international players making themselves available for Origin. That’s right, they have a choice. Some like Sam Kasiano have stayed loyal to New Zealand, others, like Josh Papalii have not.
We need to raise a few questions as to why the loyalty is being brushed quicker than water off a ducks back. Why would you turn your back on your homeland?
The answer is firstly the opportunity to play representative football at the highest level. Yes, International representation is the highest level but the quality of football is the difference.
Secondly, players from the likes of Tonga, Samoa etc don’t have that high quality, frequency and popularity like State of Origin. I watched Game 2 of last year’s Origin series at a Bar in Barcelona, Spain. There’s no way that would happen for a Cook Islands vs. Papua New Guinea match. Players want to be in the spotlight and play in the best games. The dangling carrot is too large for them to ignore.
It will only get worse over time as (easily) over 60% of players in the National Youth Competition (Holden Cup) are of Polynesian heritage.
Keep the above debate in mind as I move to another problem that arises at Origin time; the BYE.
The weekend just gone, Round 12, of the NRL Telstra Premiership had a total of 4 games with the remaining 8 teams putting their feet up to accommodate the Origin period.
Last night, a depleted Brisbane Broncos outfit was crushed at home to the last placed New Zealand Warriors 56 – 18.
Was it a surprise? In round 23 it would be, absolutely! During the Origin period? Not a surprise at all. In fact, the Warriors were the favorites to win. This was due to Brisbane missing a large chunk of their squad who are in the Queensland team.
The National Rugby League have put the clubs in a “catch 22” situation. Players are being rewarded for their playing ability with Origin representation but their club is significantly weaker and will be punished for the premiership race in their absence.
There have been suggestions of having a stand-alone weekend just for the State of Origin so the clubs can remain at full strength. I think this would be an unsuccessful move as the average punter wants to see more than 1 game of footy in an 11 day period.
I have an idea that would (to a degree) solve both the eligibility and skeleton squads at club level. If not solve, then work towards change for the better.
My theory is this:
Keep the State of Origin as its traditional Wednesday fixture and give every NRL club a BYE on the weekend that follows.
During that NRL weekend off, Australia and New Zealand would host a Pacific Nations Tournament consisting of Papua New Guinea – Cook Islands – Samoa – Fiji – Tonga – New Zealand North Island – New Zealand South Island – Australian Prime Ministers teams.
The National Youth Competition would also play their Under 20’s State of Origin series during that weekend.
These teams would play a 3 week tournament on the weekend that follows the Wednesday Origin. The structure of that tournament would be for a discussion at another time.
This would not only provide at least 5 games over the weekend (what the Rugby League fans want) but International rivalries and more frequent representation for those countries who are currently limited to a minimal amount.
Would this tempt those who choose to play Origin over their home country to reconsider? To wear their home colours and have the honour of representing their people? I think so.
It would also introduce the young players from the NYC into representative games at a younger age and give them experience, which will make them better players when they make it to the NRL. Over all result – a stronger NRL competition.
Imagine Fiji vs. Cook Islands at Allianz Stadium; Samoa vs. Tonga at Suncorp Stadium; NZ North vs. NZ South in Wellington; Australia’s PM vs. PNG in Canberra. The massive amounts of multiculturalism that forms these great nations would come together and celebrate in the name of Rugby League whilst enjoying their sporting rivalry.
Low ticket prices and more merchandise sales will create a financial domino effect into club membership growth because more people are being involved in the game through culture.
At the end of it all, the players go back to their club, the normal Premiership rounds recommence, the clubs are at full strength and the race fore September is back on.
Just a thought…