Selection Controversy threatens to turn World Cup into a Farce

By Daniel Andruczyk

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.

Lets Look at the Squads

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.

https://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?v=10151974655508982&set=vb.556403981&type=2&theater

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:

ITALY 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.

Selection Criteria

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.

“Harden the F&#k Up“

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!

Parting Note

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.

 

Daniel Andruczyk’s email: daniel@rugbyleagueinternationalscores.com
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15 Responses to “Selection Controversy threatens to turn World Cup into a Farce”

  1. ramon razor says:

    I think your criticisms of the Italy squad are unfair. Italy have actually selected two players from a domestic competition far weaker than the American equivalent. Equally, many of the NRL players have no option to play in a largely-amateur European Shield competition that runs during their season and it’s totally unrealistic to expect them to do so. The vast majority of the players in the Italy squad have played in either the European Shield or Australia-based trials. Equally, a good number of those selected paid their own way to compete in the World Cup qualifying tournament two years ago, so I have no issue with their inclusion. Furthermore, they are top NRL and Super League players who will contribute a great deal to the RLWC. The same cannot be said of the American squad, which appears to have been selected largely as a means of self-gratification for a group of substandard Australian players.

    Italy are no worse than the likes of Ireland, Scotland, Tonga and many other nations at both the upcoming and previous World Cup. Heritage players a fact of life and something that we should all accept, and in honesty are far preferable to teams full of domestic players suffering heavy beatings and hurting both the credibility of the sport and themselves. What isn’t acceptable is the American squad selection, which not only displays a shocking lack of integrity but neither provides for a strong on-field performance nor has any benefit for the sport in the USA, and in fact probably has an overwhelming negative effect on development.

  2. warrior poet says:

    even though it would be a good thing for all teams to select a majority of locals in their teams, it’s not that realistic… in the rlwc the only teams that will not feature heritage players are australia and england (although with tamou, papalii, chase, etc even they aren’t full of locals, they basically contain reverse-heritage players)

    • Interested Observer says:

      It is not realistic only because it has become accepted. Changes need to be made that provide genuine opportunities for home grown players and guys who have made the USA their home and play in a domestic comp in the States. Just because something is the status quo does not make it right or acceptable.

      • warrior poet says:

        i’m only saying it’s not that realistic because if teams like usa, italy or the pacific island teams fielded teams made up primarily of locally based players they would get beaten by 100+ when they met australia, england or nz… even teams like france or png would put a huge score on them. If the kiwis didn’t choose heritage players at the last wc we wouldn’t have won. rugby league in samoa, tonga and fiji would have died years ago and would never have started in places like italy, lebanon, greece, morocco… even ireland, wales and scotland would struggle! Outside of warriors players the kiwi’s haven’t chosen a nz based player in 20 years!

      • Interested Observer says:

        Who cares if the USA team gets flogged by 100 points, the domestic players in a losing game like that would still take away so much from the experience, more than you could ever imagine. We all know the value of heritage players and the benefits and experience they offer developing teams and competions and I agree that without them, many comps may not have developed the way they have. However after 18 years of fairly regular RL in the US, we need to dial back the amount of heritage players involved in the national team as there are now quality, home grown players who are not far off international standards who could certainly compete with other domestic players from developing countries. These players need to be ‘blooded’ into a national team at the RLWC and not just used in ‘friendlies’, WC qualifiers and the Colonial Cup series only to be replaced by ring-ins chasing their moment in the limelight.

      • warrior poet says:

        To me, it doesn’t seem fair that the players who shed blood, sweat and tears to get the tomahawks into the world cup are not the players that will be playing in the world cup.
        I totally agree that local players should be selected in the world cup team… all i’m saying is that until the american competitions develop into a fully professional and united competition where the local players are considered among the top players in the world, you will need to select heritage players.
        From what i’ve seen (admittedly at a limited level) of the usarl/amnrl some of the players would be up to atleast nsw/qld cup standard. Most of the minor (no offence meant) nations in rlwc have only selected 2-3 local based players.
        In terms of the usa eagles player… the rlwc organisers should step in and ban his selection. He’s not a league player.
        Maybe an idea would be to introduce an origin-like series (atlantic coast vs the rest?) where local based players and heritages would be selected and play alongside each other for a spot in the tomahawks?. Only heritages who play in the series can be selected for the usa team? Include training sessions with juniors and developing teams, media sessions, etc.
        This way the players selected for the tomahawks would have to make an effort to go to the states and would put something back in to local development!.
        Can i just point out that based on heritage rules (grandparent born in iowa) i would be eligible to play for the tomahawks even though i’ve never been there! Seems wrong to me!

    • Reason says:

      SO DONT CALL IT A WORLD CUP. Dont try to get the USA behind it. No one cares. IMO its fraud passing off this team as a USA Team.

      • warrior poet says:

        the world cup is not just for players FROM

      • Interested Observer says:

        That’s rubbish warrior poet. If we didn’t use heritage players, we’d still have plenty of teams but yes we’d have lopsided scorelines. Fact is that even with heritage players, teams like the USA and Italy are still going to be beaten convincingly by the other strong nations. We are not saying the US team should be free and clear of all heritage players as some can contribute in a very positive way. What we are saying though, is that the USA team does not need to be stacked with so many heritage players, the vast majority of which have no vested interest in the game in the USA in anyway. They should not be allowed to all play for the Tomahawks just on the basis that they “want to represent” the US, like you have suggested. These heritage players have taken spots on the roster that should have gone to domestic players with real ties to the game in the US. The value of that would be immeasurable. Those not involved in RL in the USA should not be giving advice about who should and should not be in the Tomahawks team. I have no interest in advising a Kiwi who should and should not be playing for NZ.

  3. Andyt says:

    Who so ever gets selected is,almost, irrelevant. The key is what will those players do with that responsibility? Will they take up the challenge of being an integral part of the development of their sport in the country of their selection… Or are they just there for the free ride?

    Guys… It’s over to you.

    • Interested Observer says:

      I understand some of what you say, but try telling the guys playing here in the States that whoever gets selected is irelevent and see what sort of response you get. That’s a very ignorant comment to make.

  4. Daniel Johnson says:

    Dan, thanks for this as always.. It is hard for the US Supporter to get behind this squad. It is frustrating that our team is being selected & coached by guys that have 0 investent here. The players have 0 invested in the USA for the most part. I bet you 85% could not even sing our national anthem… To the average US based sports fan this is very difficult to explain or justify.

  5. Interested Observer says:

    Info from Spinner Howland clearly shows that Garvey is the only one with a real, tangible link to a domestic club. Freed and Priestly have tenuous and very recent links and may possibly be considered as ok selections but for me they are still borderline.
    Like everyone else with a brain, I think the selection of Durutalo is nothing short of ludicrous and would not be entertained by any other nation. I also despise the way selectors have tried to minimise or hide the truth about some of the players by linking them to domestic US teams, it is very misleading but then again we are talking about the AMNRL here.
    Mark Cantoni (Dalby) – Australia
    Andrew Durutalo (USA Eagles – The USA UNION Team) – We are unaware of him ever playing Rugby League. Certainly not a single domestic game. If there is anyone who can find evidence of him playing we would like to know
    Bureta Faraimo (Mackay Cutters) – Australia
    Gabriel Farley – AUSTRALIAN – (Southampton Dragons) – He is a UNION player based on what you can find online and we are not sure of how many domestic league games he played for this team but we believe it was only a handful in the last season at best.
    Kristian Freed – AUSTRALIAN – (Connecticut Wildcats) -played only a handful of games at the last part of the 2013 season. They named him as a player for a AMNRL Domestic team, rather than him being Australian and having played only a few games in the USA. I wonder if he will return to the USA after the WC to help grow the game.
    Michael Garvey (Ipswich Jets) – He is American and played for the Glen Mills Bulls. He is from New Jersey I believe and is about the only true home grown talent that is on the team. He got a chance to play in Australia and took it. From all reports he is doing well and his overall selection is true USA Rugby League success story.
    Roman Hifo (East Hawks, NZ) – New Zealand
    Danny Howard (Wentworthville) – Australia
    Stephen Howard (Tuggeranong Vikings) – Australia
    Luke Hume (New York Knights) – Australian who played for 2 seasons with the New York Knights, but has not played Rugby League in 2 years to our knowledge. He did help grow the game while he was here. I believe he is trying to get a UNION contract in the UK and has been playing there on trial for some time.
    Judah Lavulo (Cabramatta) – Australia
    Joel Luani (Wests Tigers) – Australia
    David Marando (Belrose) – Australia
    Ryan McGoldrick (Salford City Reds) – UK
    Clint Newton (Penrith) – Australia
    Mark Offerdahl – AUSTRALIAN – (Connecticut Wildcats) – played only a handful of games at the last part of the 2013 season. They named him as a player for a AMNRL Domestic team, rather than him being Australian and having played only a few games in the USA. I wonder if he will return to the USA after the WC to help grow the game.
    Joseph Paulo (Parramatta/Capt) – Australia
    Junior Paulo (Parramatta) – Australia
    Craig Priestly – AUSTRALIAN – (Southampton Dragons) – Not sure of his long term intentions, but he did set up and run the Southhampton Dragons (USA) for the 2013 season – we hope he continues with that push
    Matt Petersen (Cudgen Hornets) – Australia
    Tui Samoa (Redcliffe) – Australia
    Matt Shipway (Newcastle) – Australia
    Les Soloai (Featherstone Rovers) – UK
    Lelauloto Tagaloa (Hawaii Chiefs) – very little info on this guy but we understand that he has played only a handful games of Rugby League. Unaware of his playing ability. – BUT he does live in the USA (HI)

  6. Interested Observer says:

    And the farce continues with the selection of Eddy Pettybourne in the USA team. Eddy appears to be part everything. Has played for Australia, Samoa, selected in the NZ team and now named in the US team. Has lived for a long time in Australia and now plays in the UK. Man I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

    Apparently his grandmother once sunbaked at Waikiki beach so he now qualifies to replace the rugby union player that should never have been selected (like to know the truth behind his withdrawal as I doubt it was thru injury).

    The fools running the US team could have and should have jumped at the opportunity to put a domestic player in, especially after the uproar that has been caused by this team. It’s is no surprise though to see they have again selected a non-deserving non-American.

  7. Farmduck says:

    I wonder what everyone thinks now.

    I agree with the objective of avoiding lop-sided games and 100-0 scorelines. Partly because when we look at our history we find that some guy who scored 8 tries in a game against Russia 20 years ago is the record-holder for tries in a game and I think this devalues many of these honours.

    Mainly though, in the real world, the future of professional sports lies in TV rights and major networks won’t pay big money for 100-0 foregone conclusions. In a perfect world we would be gradually tightening eligibility rules. Australia this year changed State of Origin rules. The RLIF should change the heritage rules for the 2017 WC to “born there, lived there for 10 years, or both parents born there.” This would cut out 90% of the “imports” but would still allow some cases. Petero Civoniceva was born in Fiji, like both his parents, moved to Australia as a toddler and played all his professional RL in OZ. I was happy to see him play for Fiji though because of the boost it gave to the press the Fiji team received at home.

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