The first week of 2011 has already thrown up some interesting talking points all around the world. The USA seems to be powering along despite some supposed grumblings in the ranks. We have our first international swap for the year and a surprising one and the Kangaroos top job has been decided.
So Willie Mason is a Tongan again. After playing in the 2000 World Cup he abandoned his first country to play for Australia. Now some might think that Mason going back to Tonga is a good thing, but his reasons are bit more sinister. You see Mason needs the Tongan Citizenship to get in to play Super League.
About 10 years ago the European Community signed an agreement (The Cotonou Agreement) with Pacific Island nations; Cook Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Papua New Guinea. It basically allows PI citizens to play as a non-overseas player in the Super League and so don’t come under the quota that restricts how many players from Australia and New Zealand can play in team.
Mason flew to Tonga had a couple beers with the Prime Minister of Tonga to fast track his Citizenship and Passport. Mason qualifies through his Tongan Mother though he was born in New Zealand. The interesting thing will be to see whether he will play for Tonga now or not.
In the USA the whole split talk seems to have died down a bit this week. The Jacksonville Axemen are starting to gear up and get their 2011 premiership defence on track. Other good news to come out of the AMNRL, aside from all the expansion that’s going on, is that one of the original teams is back this season. Yes the Bucks County Sharks are back in the AMNRL after a one year break getting things back in order.
The Sharks have many fans in the league and were always a club that prided themselves on developing local players and not relying on imports. They have always been pioneers in the AMNRL in terms of their development. So New Jersey has a team again in the AMNRL.
Back in the Southern Hemisphere, after Australia’s 4 Nations defeat to the Kiwis there was speculation about Tim Sheens position as coach. Well this week that speculation ended with Tim Sheen being re-appointed as the man to lead the Roo’s this year again.
Also this week some good news has come out from New Zealand. NZRL supremo Jim Doyle revealed that player numbers in New Zealand have increased to 24,000 now which is a 50% increase. As well participation numbers are up 52% since 2009 when the NZRL restructured itself from the bottom up. It was in pretty dire straits in 2008 when they won the World Cup. So 2010 was a superb year for the Kiwis, the Warriors doing well in the NYC and winning the over all Club Championship, Benji Marshall winning the golden boot award and the Kiwis with the 4 Nations. On top of that the Rugby League features in the Halberg Award nominations in New Zealand, with Marshall, Manu Vatuvei, Stephen Kearney and the Kiwis all being nominated.
Also this week week great news from Singapore with the reemergence of the Singapore Rugby League. They have a website setting out their goals and plans fro the next couple of years.
So all up, some great news coming out of the Rugby League world this week.