International Origin – What Did We Learn?

Daniel Andruczyk

Friday the 10th of June saw one of the “newer” innovations in Rugby League come to fruition. I have it in quotation marks because in reality its not a new innovation in Rugby League. The International Origin match played in Leeds saw the England Lions team take on an Exiles team, the exiles team was meant to be made up of Australians and New Zealanders. The Exiles in a last minute dash were able to overcome the England team 16 to 12.

Overall as a game of Rugby League I enjoyed the game. I thought it was pretty good. For me it flowed well, two teams with different styles went up against each other and the game was close till the end. The only thing that sullied it for me was the refereeing. I thought it was very ordinary with both sides hard done by. The Exiles with their last try came off a clear forward pass from what I saw and on the flip side the Exiles should have had a try allowed.

There has been a mixed reaction to this game from across the Rugby League Spectrum. The English Fans saying that they finally had a good mid year game that pushed the England team, Australian fans as always have come out and ridiculed the game, that England can’t compete with Australian has beens etc.. The truth I think is that the truth fall somewhere else. In reality the game has now brought England down the same line that Australia and New Zealand have been doing now for a good 25 years. It only serves to damage the sport.

What did we Learn?

Let me just say now, from the outset I have been against this game. But not for the reasons most people will think. In many ways I am against it for the same reasons I want to see State of Origin change in Australia. In the end the game does nothing for the international game, in fact damages it, and it now have players doing the old country box dance like they don in Australia.

So what did we learn, we learned two things. First that an understrength England with 4-5 of its top notch players not playing, some who were never going to be released by their Australian clubs (usual problem), had some problems playing a team, which lets face it is still damn good. Second Despite what people say the Exiles team probably would compete with Australia and New Zealand, so I don’t think the English need to be too disappointed in that respect. I am sure there will be a lot of people who will argue with me about this but I say yadah, yadah, yadah. Just because they are playing in England does not mean they still aren’t good enough. Actually its this attitude from Australian fans and selectors which I think is hurting International Rugby League, but more on that later.

England just Like the Antipodeans

But the thing that disappoints me the most is that now England has gone down the path of Australia. We have seen how a player of Akiula Uate’s calibre can be easily corrupted into playing for NSW and thus switching his allegiances, and yes he is now an Aussie and not a Fijian, and I will attempt to explain this later. Though out through Injury, Danny Brough, who played for Scotland last year in the European Cup, has switched to England. Now this means he cannot play in the end of year tri-Nations or the World Cup … if the RLIF is consistent.

And why is he doing this? Well because he wants to play quality games against quality teams and he does not get that with Scotland and this game, just like State of Origin, is the only place he can get it. The fact that no comprehensive international schedule exists for the sport is just abysmal. Its why players do the switch, there are only 2-3 nations that compete… ney are “allowed” to complete and so they will end up skimming the cream of the crop to maintain their dominance, they fear that someone other than themselves may actually compete with them!

The Exiles team underlined this. Australia has a strict policy of selecting platers only playing in Australia, no other sport does this, soccer has its players all over the world and they can still be selected for their nation. What this selection criteria does is that it forces out players that are still good enough to play in the national team out, players who could still take the place of flip floppers. Every year there is an outcry that in Australia there is a lack of one kind of quality player of the other, and people make the observation that there are many quality players in the UK, and they are quality, so why the hell not use them? This way you have genuine Aussies in the Aussie team and players from the developing nations don’t have to jump ship.

State of Origin

But the Gorilla in the room is State of Origin. Lets face it, its like that drunk in the corner that has drunk to much but you are scared to take the bottle of whiskey away because you are not sure how he’ll react. People are terrified to change it in any way because they are scared that its flaws will be exposed. I have talked about this many many times in past articles, so will try and summarise things here.

State of Origin is a hangover from a bygone era. Its when you had the mid year test tours and Origin was a genuine selection game between the NSWRL and QRL on who would make the team. Things started to change in 1988 when basically the NSWRL hijacked things and started to make it a “Nationalised” game. With the effective downgrading of the QRL and then with the outcome of the Super League with the English switching to Summer Rugby League, the tours, or matches changed to the end of the year. So Why didn’t Origin also change? Origin was a selection criteria for the Australian team and hence why still today you have to be only eligible for Australia to play Origin.

Money is the big issue though. One of the big reasons why players do the country switch is that they get paid extra money to play the rep games. But at $6000 per game as I understand it it, is it such a big incentive? I mean a player sitting at $250,000 per year is earning $8333 per game, and most of the players in Origin and Australian team will be on that, so does the extra $18000 really make that much of a difference.

If origin were to move to the end of the year and other internationals were played at the same time where players were payed though the RLIF to rep their countries this would give players the incentive to stay with their first country of choice rather than jump ship for very flimsy eligibility rules. State of Origin basically is a carrot to bribe players to play for Australia. and I will say it here, as much as I am a blues man and love to see the Maroon loose… State of Origin is no better than any other NRL game through the season. The intensity I don’t think is all that much more and the quality of the play is not that much better.

Not a New Concept

The Exiles concept in reality is not a new one… Rugby league, like the Barbarians in Union, has the “Other Nationalities” team which played for many many years. Why didn’t we resurrect this name, play on a great tradition in our sport. The other nationalities then could at least legitimately use nations other than just Australia and New Zealand in the team… well lets be honest many of those players in the team actually play for Samoa, Tonga, hell pat Richards plays for Ireland! Why not actually celebrate that fact, than hide it as oh its an Australian and Kiwi team. Brough should have been playing for the Exiles as far as I am concerned. There were none to the PNG stars that are in England, so what they are not worthy of getting a better game? What happened to the French players, why do they get excluded?

As far as I am concerned the Exiles concept was very badly thought out and executed in what it did for the sport and in the end will do more damage to the International Game.

Psychiatrist Please!

The solution to England woes internationally is one od Psychology. England tend to go into matched defeated, you see it from their fans, they try and make excuses almost from before the ball is kicked. The team needs to be psychologically fixed and that is where having a meaningful schedule of matched where they get used to winning will help, either that or a shrink to fix them. But I gest, I despite everything things come in cycles, there will be a time when England will dominate once more, hell look at New Zealand.

Really, in the end the way to fix things is from the ground up, that mean the RLIF standing up, re-organizing the sport, providing a meaningful schedule for all nation with regional and trans-continental tournaments. They need to have an independent, professional body that is able to get funding of the game independently of the ARL, NZRL, FFRXIII and RFL.


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