This week saw rugby league minnows Lebanon name their squad for the upcoming World Cup and the biggest name in the squad was that of Robbie Farah. The South Sydney hooker featured for Australia in the 2013 competition and now he will be turning out for The Cedars this winter.
There has been an unusually high number of players defecting from New Zealand and Australian squads for this tournament, too. Many Kiwis have suggested that this is down to coach David Kidwell effectively sacking former captain Jesse Bromwich and that their defections are, in effect, protests. Intriguingly, these changes of allegiance often happen to players who aren’t likely to be in the squads of either New Zealand or Australia but this time, that hasn’t been the case. North Queensland Cowboys’ forward Jason Taumalolo is one of those high profile players who have defected and was a shoe in for a place in the Kiwis’ squad as was Australian prop forward Andrew Fifita yet both have opted to wear the Tongan jersey this winter. But is it right that players can play for whichever national team they like and change from tournament to tournament?
As things stand, international rugby rules state that players can play for any tier two country and still be eligible to play for a tier one country and vice versa. The tier one teams are England, New Zealand and Australia meaning that the likes of Taumalolo and Fifita can turn out for Tonga this winter having featured for the Kiwis and Kangaroos respectively. This rule was often exploited by players who were beyond their prime and no longer of the required standard for the best two international teams in the world or who wanted to gain international experience at a young age. This tournament, however, is seeing some players in their prime featuring for so-called minnows.
The argument given by some of these players is that it is helping to spread the game and widen interest which, to be honest, is a fair point. But, if you were to compare that to football, players are only ever eligible to play for one senior team regardless of their stature. Players have to wait until they are called to represent their country and, while international football is of declining interest, it certainly means there is more of a sense of pride in the shirt; how much pride can an ageing Australian have while pulling on the shirt of Samoa? Or Tonga? Or anybody else? Generally, they only turn out for these minnows when they aren’t good enough anymore for a premier country. Also, how does a player who is in the twilight of their career playing for an emerging nation boost the game? Wouldn’t proper investment in youth rugby be more meaningful to the country, leading to local, homegrown players turning out for their shirt and wearing it with serious pride in the knowledge that they are representing their homeland?
Surely the Rugby League International Federation needs to have a look at the rules of internationals to make wearing a nation’s shirt a bit more meaningful?