It’s now seasons end with domestic Rugby League and usually the die-hard League fan licks their lips for the up coming international season. In the past its been the various tours and more recent;ly the 3 and 4 nations tournaments. We were always wanting to see if anyone would stop Australia’s 30 year stranglehold on the international sport, it was finally broken by the Kiwis and now we want to see if the Kiwis can continue this run of good tournament form… will the Brits come back and threaten, will we see the re-emergence of France as a Rugby League power again? Will we see the fleeting glimpses of brilliance from teams like PNG, Wales and Fiji finally come through and push and threated the big 4? These are always the questions we love to debate, no argue passionately about, however this year takes on an even greater significance since the international season is the Rugby League World Cup! 14 teams will battle it out for the sports top prize with two new comers to the table; the USA and Italy.
No, its no secret that Rugby League’s player selection policies are looser than the $2 slots in Las Vegas. Its always been a pain in the side of fans to see nations and players mix and match countries as they please and the RLIF step in and do nothing. But with the sport seeing an explosion of truly international teams around the world in the last 10 years you’d think that the RLIF would have stepped in and really tightened up the national selection criteria, unfortunately that seems not the case and if anything, things look like they are really turning a blind eye. This week the USA and Italy have named their World Cup squads and well to say the least they are the least American and Italian squads I have ever seen.
This is not an easy article to write, I have many friends in both administration and I am sure I will say things against many of them. I will not name names, but it will be obvious to them who I talk about. Hopefully they will see this as constructive criticism and remain friends, but for me the integrity of the sport is first and foremost the most important.
Probably the biggest backlash of these selections that I have seen, and maybe because I live here, has been in the United States. Rugby League, here in the USA is in its own “Super League” war. There are two rival competitions, the original AMerican National Rugby League (AMNRL) and the break away USA Rugby League (USARL). Though the USA is not a member nations of the TLIF or the RLEF, the AMNRL is the “recognised” competition by the RLIF and as such it controls the national team, The USA Tomahawks. Since the split between the two at the beginning of 2011 there has been a policy by the AMNRL of not selecting the USARL and the Tomahawks were essentially used as leverage to try and keep players with the AMNRL. Fortunately in the last 3 months relations are getting better, and though there is no unification yet steps are being made and people from both sides are working closely together. Evidence being in the recent Colonial Cup games against the Canadians where USARL players have finally been selected for the Tomahawks again.
This worked for some players with even the carrot of the captaincy being offered for the Tomahawks for one. in 2011 there were the World Cup qualifiers where players were flown in from Australia to make up a team with only about 5 local players. This did not much for the promotion of the sport and in hind sight I am guilty of furthering this, though it wasn’t my intention. Two of the ring-in players are friends and their father is a good friend of mine and a mentor of sorts, they were born in the USA and qualified through having a passport… I did hope that they would continue to help and support the sport in the coming years by coming out and continuing to play for the Tomahawks each year. Alas I feel that playing in the Tomahawks and the World Cup may be seen as just a good party and junket, and there are some in the sports upper echelons that feel the same way… that the USA will come away having gained the least with this World Cup. So lets have a look at the squad
USA TOMAHAWKS SQUAD:
Mark Cantoni (Dalby)
Andrew Durutalo (USA Eagles)
Bureta Faraimo (Mackay Cutters)
Gabriel Farley (Southampton Dragons)
Kristian Freed (Connecticut Wildcats)
Michael Garvey (Ipswich Jets)
Roman Hifo (East Hawks, NZ)
Danny Howard (Wentworthville)
Stephen Howard (Tuggeranong Vikings)
Luke Hume (New York Knights)
Judah Lavulo (Cabramatta)
Joel Luani (Wests Tigers)
David Marando (Belrose)
Ryan McGoldrick (Salford City Reds)
Clint Newton (Penrith)
Mark Offerdahl (Connecticut Wildcats)
Joseph Paulo (Parramatta/Capt)
Junior Paulo (Parramatta)
Craig Priestly (Southampton Dragons)
Matt Petersen (Cudgen Hornets)
Tui Samoa (Redcliffe)
Matt Shipway (Newcastle)
Les Soloai (Featherstone Rovers)
Lelauloto Tagaloa (Hawaii Chiefs)
OK, so there we have it. There are 6 “local Players” several of whom are actually from other countries just playing in the USA. They are Aussies or Brits that have come over from playing in those countries to have a go here. Not to say that they are not committed to the sport, many are. Guys like Priestly set up the Southampton Dragons to play in the AMNRL, and maybe they deserve the sport for that alone, for doing the hard yards. The most interesting one is Andrew Durutalo who played Rugby Union and as far as I know has never played Rugby League in the USA. How he got selected is a real head scratcher.
The rest of the team is just imports in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, players who in reality I think are just looking for an in to be part of the World Cup without really caring about the development of the sport in the USA. The last 5 years there are genuine American players who really have become the household names of the sport, in both competitions, that have played and worked their guts out, made sacrifices for the development of sport and the Tomahawks in the USA. Everyone knows Apple Pope and Akarika Dawn there is Curtis Cunz and Kevin Wiggins just to name a few. These are house hold names in the Rugby League community here, just like in the NRL names like Paul Gallen, Jonathan Thurston, Billy Slayter and Benji Marshal or SBW have instant recognisability in the rugby league community there. Its what the sponsors look for when pushing their products. To take away these guys from the Tomahawks is a tragedy
On top of all this, the USA Tomahawks have now had two Professional coaches essentially walk out on them. Matthew Elliot, used to be their coach but since the stepping down of close friend and President of the AMNRL, David Niu, he seemed to also take a step away from the team, Brian Smith was then meant to come in but this week also pulled out due to family commitments. This leaves the only World Cup nation without a Professional Coach. Some may argue that they should stick local, but with a tournament like the World Cup you really do need to have a Big Time coach to help the players and the development of the game and local coaches in the USA.
Daryl “Spinner” Howland, co-owner and founder of the Jacksonville Axemen (USARL) put up an interesting video on this topic and his feeling on it. I urge you to have a listen and see if you agree with him. I agree with 99% of what he says, but there is one slight difference which I will address later in the article.
The Italian squad I feel is the same. Again I have friends in the Italian Rugby League and I feel they have let themselves and the sport down big time by essentially selecting a team that sounds Italian but is not Italian but full of essentially “mercenaries”. For all the hooplah they have made about their domestic season and players, not one domestically based players has been selected.
No believe it or not the Italians in about thge same time as the American Split also had a schism of their own, and Italian “Super League war”. If anything the efforts there from both sides seem to be really like the Republicans and Democrats here in the USA, they cannot agree on anything. The original federation FIRL are recognised by the RLIF and RLIF and any other nation or team dealing with the rebel break-away’s FIRFL, have been told they will lose their recognition and funding. Both admins claim to be growing the sport, but it always seems to be hard to verify from independent sources. Any unification seems to be far away here.
My critisism here are basically the same as what I have written above with the USA. Here is the squad:
Paul Vaughan, Terry Campese (Canberra Raiders)
Gavin Hiscox (Central Capras)
Mark Minichiello (Gold Coast Titans)
Christophe Calegari (Lezignan Corbieres)
Craig Gower, Joshua Mantellato (Newcastle Knights)
Joel Riethmuller (North Queensland Cowboys)
Chris Centrone (North Sydney Bears)
Gioele Celerino (North West Roosters)
Ryan Ghetti (Northern Pride)
Dean Parata (Parramatta Eels)
Cameron Ciraldo (Penrith Panthers)
Vic Mauro (Salford Reds)
Anthony Laffranchi (St Helens)
Sam Gardel , Ben Falcone (South’s Logan Magpies)
Aidan Guerra, Anthony Minichiello (Sydney Roosters)
Fabrizio Ciaurro (Tirreno Sharks)
Jason Staltonstall (Warrington Wolves)
Brendon Santi, James Tedesco (West Tigers)
Ryan Tramonte (Windsor Wolves)
ITALY BACK-UP SQUAD
Ray Nasso (Avignon XIII)
Dennis Tomarchio (Canberra Raiders)
Remi Fontana (Carpentras)
Dominic Nasso, Ben Mussolino (Manly Sea Eagles)
Luke Vescio (Parramatta Eels)
Jonathon Marcinczak (Racing Club Albi)
Tim McCann (Tweed Heads)
Cedric Prizzon (Villefrache En Rouergue)
Ben Stewart (Windsor Wolves)
Nathan Milone (West Tigers)
What is more blatant is that the Italians are not even trying to disguise the fact that they are stacking the team. How many of those players, regularly, each year come out to play for the Italians in European Shield games or European Cup games even? I think I can name one maybe two that have. Now, I do not know how set in tone these squads are but if changes can be made I would make them. I have heard reports already of players in both countries; that have put in their time, love, soul and hard sweat into the national squads, are so devastated that they did not get selected when clearly they should have. They are so upset that their places have been essentially taken by players that have done nothing to deserve them in the squad. You do not see anything like this in soccer or even Union, or any other international sport. Players need to make a commitment full time to a nation and if they do have dual citizenships it takes a long, rigorous and arduous process to switch.
OK, so having read all that rant, you may think the issue is that there are so many ex-pats and heritage players in the squads and that is my problem. NO. That is not the issue here actually. I do not have a problem with heritage and ex-pat players playing for their nations of heritage. However what I want from them is a 100% commitment to playing each year, weather its a World Cup year or Not for those nations. To make the sacrifice from club football and fly out to play, to do the promoting and hard work helping with coaching players, mentoring local players. Those are the heritage players that deserve to play, not one-off Johnny-come-lately that show up just once a year.
The argument that clubs pay the salary and thus won’t release them does not fly. There are enough internationals and enough time for players to make trips over and help out. Just look at Louis Robinson for the Canadians, he makes every effort to play in each of their international games flying over from the UK, getting releases from his club(s) to play. In 4 years time if Canada make the World Cup, he is the type of heritage player that I would want in the squad. He is marketable. The Germans have a similar situation with Jimmy Keinhorst who plays at Leeds. A heritage player but he has played in almost every single one of their internationals. If the Germans make the world Cup then Jimmy and his Brothers ARE the ones that should be able to make it.
I understand that that nations want to put on the best squad that they can on the field, but you have to do this with some sort of passion and pride and make sure the players you select have that pride for the jersey. I don’t have an issue with a national team having all heritage players IF those players have made the effort to play the whole period between world cup. There should be a criteria that for a player to be eligible in the World Cup or any international that is, then they have to have played in 75% of the matched leading up to the tournament, that is the whole 4 years between a world cup. Or if they are new, need to make sure they have not played for any other nation in the previous 4 years including juniors down to U16’s.
If this means sitting it out and missing a World Cup, so be it, that is the passion playing for a national jersey should have. This also means that the RLIF and its sub-federations need to also step up to the plate and actually enforce any selection relegations. Right now its so confusing what happens, a player can swap nations once in a world cup period which is like 2 years before, but in between that they can swap all they want? That is as Schizophrenic as you can get in sport. This needs to be cleaned up and the Games administrators need to get pride and some courage to do this. They need to get rid of any conflicts of interest by being involved with clubs and domestic competitions as well as they will always skew their views, whether they intend it or not.
Spinners address says that this is no way a criticism of the players that were selected, that its the administration that has failed. I disagree up to a point. Yes the players do things within the rules and guidelines they have. Technically they are not doing anything wrong by making themselves available, however they should ask by being available and really making no effort to promote the sport in the country they choose, are they doing the right thing morally, by taking the place of a more deserving players who truly has put the time, effort and money into it. Where as these players may see it as a party and a chance to travel, the local hard working players see it as a just reward for their efforts.
Not getting selection, why would any of them stay in the sport now, knowing that essentially hard work does not pay off.
It will be interesting to see how the Pacific Island teams get selected, as they will essentially be doing the same thing as what the USA and Italy did. But they had no qualifiers to go through so none of the players get affected by the current selection policy, interesting move that by the RLIF, I always wondered if that was a premeditated move.
Anyway I know why all this happens. The Powers-that-be in the Rugby league administration universe are so painfully conscious about blow out scores. They are scared of having 100-0 score lines being racked up. I say to this “Harden the F&#k up”. Who cares. The World Cup, any international is a celebration of the sport. It there to allow players to represent their countries. Its mean to take the best of the best from those countries and test them against others, that is how you know where you stand and what needs to be improved. Stacking teams does not solve anything. If anything it makes the domestic players and comps weaker since there are no domestic players now getting the opportunity to learn from any more experienced players
The games administration needs to cop big score lines on the chin. They need to do what Soccer and Union do when they get big score lines and know how to put a good spin on it. You need to get the media on your side, you need to feed the great stories to them. Right now in Australia the media and very few of the NRL fans probably know that the World Cup is on, I have my RSS feed on the Aussie papers everyday and I see that there is barely any mention about the World Cup, and when there is its all negative. Do not let any negative commentators near your product, let them have their un-educated rants, get the knowledgeable and dedicated media on board and to promote.
Grow a pair and support and defend the game we so love!
I Feel for the players that did not get in. But I just say to those players that did get selected please do not waste this. Please make every effort to help promote the sport from here on. Don;t make this World Cup a one off, but do make the effort to come back once or twice a year to play in internationals, to help coach a team, help out with junior development, to help forge links between your clubs in the Rugby league Strong holds and your nations of heritage. These are valuable things that need to be done.
I wish you all the best and success in the up coming World Cup. Good Luck to everyone.
You must be logged in to post a comment.